'Holy traffic cones' become symbol of Thai crisis

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'Holy traffic cones' become symbol of Thai crisis
An anti-government protester walks along cones in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, May 14, 2014. Move a traffic cone placed by people who have spent six months taking over various areas of this politically volatile capital and you could get beaten, stabbed or shot. For many Thais sick of the chaos, it is a chilling thought, but also a chance to meme. Allegations that anti-government protesters have attacked several motorists for moving traffic cones have sparked a mix of outrage and creativity in political cartoons and online postings that went viral this week. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
Zie hier het bewijs 'don't move or touch the cone' #bangkokprotest #Bangkok http://t.co/ICWdxVDjK2
Anti-government protesters walk along cones in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, May 14, 2014. Move a traffic cone placed by people who have spent six months taking over various areas of this politically volatile capital and you could get beaten, stabbed or shot. For many Thais sick of the chaos, it is a chilling thought, but also a chance to meme. Allegations that anti-government protesters have attacked several motorists for moving traffic cones have sparked a mix of outrage and creativity in political cartoons and online postings that went viral this week. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
A cone stands as anti-government protesters, background, wait for a rally outside Parliament House in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, May 14, 2014. Move a traffic cone placed by people who have spent six months taking over various areas of this politically volatile capital and you could get beaten, stabbed or shot. For many Thais sick of the chaos, it is a chilling thought, but also a chance to meme. Allegations that anti-government protesters have attacked several motorists for moving traffic cones have sparked a mix of outrage and creativity in political cartoons and online postings that went viral this week. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Anti-government protesters wait for a rally next to cones outside Parliament House in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, May 14, 2014. Move a traffic cone placed by people who have spent six months taking over various areas of this politically volatile capital and you could get beaten, stabbed or shot. For many Thais sick of the chaos, it is a chilling thought, but also a chance to meme. Allegations that anti-government protesters have attacked several motorists for moving traffic cones have sparked a mix of outrage and creativity in political cartoons and online postings that went viral this week. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Anti-government protesters listen to protest leaders' speech during a rally in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, May 14, 2014. The leader of Thailand's anti-government movement pushed Tuesday for the appointment of an unelected prime minister in a news conference televised from the government's compound, which protesters have seized. Suthep Thaugsuban urged the Senate to name a new prime minister, arguing that the caretaker leader, Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, has no legitimacy. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Anti-government protesters sing the Thai national anthem during a rally in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, May 14, 2014. The leader of Thailand's anti-government movement pushed Tuesday for the appointment of an unelected prime minister in a news conference televised from the government's compound, which protesters have seized. Suthep urged the Senate to name a new prime minister, arguing that the caretaker leader, Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, has no legitimacy. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Anti-government protesters rest at a camp site in downtown Bangkok, Thailand, Sunday, May 11, 2014. Thai anti-government protesters who have been camped out in several locations in Bangkok packed their tents as they ramped up their efforts to bring down what remains of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's administration by laying siege to television stations, surrounding state offices and demanding lawmakers help them install a non-elected prime minister to rule the country. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
An anti-government protester looks at a damaged telephone booth after a grenade attack at a protest site outside Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, Saturday, May 10, 2014. Two people were reportedly injured in the attack. Supporters of Thailand's embattled government on Saturday warned the country's judiciary and Senate against any attempt to install an unelected prime minister, saying it would be a disaster for the nation that could spark civil war. (AP Photo)
BANGKOK, THAILAND - 2014/05/12: Anti-government protesters cheer during a rally near government house in Bangkok. Anti-government protesters began moving their rally site in ratchadamnoen road to the area surrounding parliament hoping to pressure the Senate to appoint an interim government to institute reforms before new elections while key Thai institutions are resisting opposition demands to install an appointed government to make political reforms. (Photo by Piti A Sahakorn/LightRocket via Getty Images)
BANGKOK, THAILAND - MAY 12: A womman blows a whistle during an anti-government protest outside the Thai Parliament on May 12, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. The protest movement abandoned its city centre site to streets near Government House as protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban called on the Thai Senate to request they appoint a new interim government after former PM Yingluck Shinawatra and some of her cabinet were removed from power by the Constitutional Court earlier in the month on charges of abuse of power. Thailand's latest round of political turmoil has lasted over 6 months with protesters demanding political reforms take place before elections. (Photo by Rufus Cox/Getty Images)
Thai pro-government 'Red Shirts' protesters attend a rally to support the government in Bangkok on May 11, 2014. Thousands of pro-government 'Red Shirts' massed in Thailand's capital to challenge attempts by opposition protesters to hand power to an unelected regime, warning that the kingdom was lurching towards 'civil war'. AFP PHOTO / PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL (Photo credit should read PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images)
An anti-government security guard secures an area during a rally at Government House in Bangkok on May 11, 2014. Thousands of pro-government 'Red Shirts' massed in Thailand's capital to challenge attempts by opposition protesters to hand power to an unelected regime, warning that the kingdom was lurching towards 'civil war'. AFP PHOTO/ Nicolas ASFOURI (Photo credit should read NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)
Anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban delivers a speech during a rally at Government House in Bangkok on May 11, 2014. Thousands of pro-government 'Red Shirts' massed in Thailand's capital to challenge attempts by opposition protesters to hand power to an unelected regime, warning that the kingdom was lurching towards 'civil war'. AFP PHOTO/ Nicolas ASFOURI (Photo credit should read NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)
BANGKOK, THAILAND - 2014/05/10: Pro-government 'red shirts' hold their slogans during a large rally on the outskirts of Bangkok. The government supporters massed on the outskirts of Bangkok in a show of support after Thailand's Constitutional Court removed caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The rally was organized by followers of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), better known as the red shirts, they oppose the Constitutional Court ruling that also disqualified several members of Yingluck's cabinet. (Photo by Piti A Sahakorn/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Thai anti-government protesters fill the street during a mass rally in Bangkok, Thailand Saturday, March 29, 2014. Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters marched through the streets of the Thai capital Saturday, reviving their whistle-blowing, traffic-blocking campaign to force the resignation of the prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and seeking the country to reform before the election. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)
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By JOCELYN GECKER
Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) -- Thailand's political lexicon has a new term: the Holy Traffic Cone.

The term went viral this week after a series of vicious attacks on motorists who moved traffic cones that anti-government protesters had arbitrarily placed near rally sites.

A mix of outrage and creativity sparked political cartoons and online postings, including a widely shared Facebook photograph that shows five men kneeling in prayer with heads bowed to a cone on the street.

The message "Don't touch the cone!" is circulating online. A cartoon listing objects that cannot be moved in Thailand depicts historical monuments and a traffic cone.

Thai Politictionary, a website of Thai political terms, added the term "Holy Cone" to its site Monday. Definition: "a sacred traffic barrier" deployed by security guards for the protest movement. "Whoever dares to touch, move or destroy the cone may be physically assaulted."

The orange pylon has come to symbolize the growing sense of hopelessness many Thais feel over the sometimes violent upheaval that has left the country in political disarray with bleak prospects for a resolution anytime soon.

Last week a court sacked Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra for nepotism, though her party remains heavily influenced from abroad by her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Government opponents vow to keep protesting until a new, unelected government takes over to begin political reforms, while Yingluck's supporters say they will take to the streets if that happens.

Parliament was dissolved late last year, the results of partial elections in February were thrown out and it is likely that political tensions will scuttle the caretaker government's plan to hold elections in July.

Both government supporters and opponents have been blamed for violence that has killed more than 20 people and injured hundreds more since anti-government protests began in November, but it is the protest movement's "security guards" - its hired toughs - who have been accused in the recent attacks over traffic cones.

A Thai military colonel was shot in the legs and beaten, allegedly by protest guards, on April 25 when he tried to move a cone blocking his route home.

On Friday, cell phone video footage that went viral allegedly showed protest guards repeatedly punching a motorist through his car window after he tried to move a cone on a Bangkok toll road.

The third and most attention-grabbing attack came Saturday, when an ice delivery man was stabbed repeatedly in his chest and stomach for moving a cone to make a delivery. The man remained under intensive care at a Bangkok hospital Wednesday.

No one has been arrested for the attacks.

"This is not just ridiculous and absurd, this is lawlessness," said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an associate professor at Kyoto University's Center for Southeast Asian Studies. "The sacredness of the law has disappeared."

"Eventually the cone parody online will die down, but the reality will continue," he said. "Those opposing the government are creating a situation of lawlessness and simultaneously acting as though they are the law enforcers."

Protesters have denied involvement in the attack on the delivery man, but Luang Pu Buddha Issara, a monk who is among the protest leaders, told the Daily News newspaper on Sunday that he did not deny the other reports. He asked the public to understand the protesters' safety concerns. He said cones at the scene of one of the attacks, on an elevated tollway, were intended to keep traffic away from a spot where attackers might fire grenades at protesters on the ground level.

"I'd like to use this channel to apologize to the victims," the monk said. "But please also give us some sympathy."

The distraught mother of the colonel read out an emotional statement at a police station earlier this month, asking how such violence was possible in a Buddhist country that prides itself on gentleness.

"A Buddhist monk once told me that many animals have been reincarnated as humans," said the mother, Bang-ornat Wattanakul. "I didn't understand it. But now I do. These men still behave like wild animals."

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Associated Press writer Thanyarat Doksone contributed to this report.

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