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Thai Unrest

Thai anti-government protests could be devastating blow to tourism and economy

Anne Barrowclough  Apr 06, 2010

Tens of thousands of Thai anti-government protesters occupied central Bangkok this weekend in their latest move to topple the Government, raising fears of a potentially devastating blow to tourism and the economy.

The Red Shirt protesters moved into Bangkok's main shopping district on Saturday and seized control of a major intersection, paralysing traffic and forcing a number of Thailand's biggest shopping malls, normally packed with weekend shoppers, to close.

More than 50,000 demonstrators ignored a warning to clear the area by 9pm, choosing instead to sleep in the streets and the doorways of luxury hotels on Saturday night. However, their leaders agreed to meet authorities later today.

The Thai Chamber of Commerce said that the economic losses from the takeover of the shopping and hotel area could reach 500 million baht a day.

The Government said that the Red Shirts' latest rally was illegal because it was blocking a major business area, and that the protesters could each face up to a year in jail and a 20,000 baht fine if they did not leave.

"The protest at the intersection is no longer legal because it is a major business area, causing a lot of damage socially and economically," Sathit Wongnongtoey, the Prime Minister's Office Minister, told local television late on Saturday.

Mr Sathit said that there was no immediate plan to disperse the protesters with force.

The mostly rural and working-class demonstrators, who support the ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, have been protesting for weeks. They have said that they will not leave until Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's Government dissolves Parliament and calls elections. Last week Mr Abhisit offered to dissolve Parliament in December, a year early, but the Red Shirts said that it was not enough.

Veera Musikapong, the protest leader, said that the demonstrators would remain until at least Monday, but that they would negotiate with authorities today to allow some traffic through.

"We have no choice but to step up civil disobedience until the Government listens," he said. "We are here because this area is a symbol of Bangkok elite. We want to show them they cannot rule without consensus of the people."

The occupation of one Bangkok's biggest commercial districts has raised concerns about a rippling impact on tourism and the economy ahead of Thailand's two-day Songkran holiday on April 13.

"We have nothing against peaceful democratic protests, but this has affected the normal way of life," said Apichart Singka-aree, director and former president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents.

"Out of some 100 previously booked flights for Chinese tourists to fly in for the Songkran festival, over 60 have been cancelled. We are trying to save the remaining 30 something flights," he said.

Suvarnabhumi airport remains on high alert as the authorities are determined to avoid a repeat of 2008, when pro-government Yellow Shirts seized the airport to force political change. The airport occupation led to the cancellation of scores of flights and cost the country millions of dollars in lost tourism.

Thai anti-government protests could be devastating blow to tourism and economy
Protesters shout slogans during anti-government protests at a tourist hub in Bangkok / Image via AFP


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