Sun, Jan 05, 2014 - Page 5 News List

Thai protesters seek to reassure tourists

ALL ABOARD:Unlike in 2008, the protesters said tourists need not fear, with all transport, shops and hotels operating, even urging visitors to join the protest

AFP, BANGKOK

Thailand’s anti-government protest movement reassured tourists on Friday that it would not target the kingdom’s airports or public transportation during a planned “shutdown” of Bangkok later this month.

The demonstrators, who are seeking to oust Thia Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and curb her billionaire family’s political dominance, say they will occupy Bangkok from Jan. 13.

“Operation Occupy Bangkok does NOT involve airport closures or the disruption of any mass transport services,” the protest movement said on its English-language Facebook page.

“Public buses, trains, BTS sky-trains, MRT underground trains and public boats will operate normally,” the statement added.

The demonstrators have vowed to set up protest stages around the capital, prevent Thai government officials from going to work and to cut off power and water to government offices, as well as to the residences of the prime minister and her Cabinet.

The protesters also plan several marches in Bangkok starting from today to build momentum ahead of the occupation attempt.

Thai stocks and the baht have fallen sharply on concerns that the deepening crisis will scare off foreign tourists and international investment.

In 2008, opposition protesters paralysed Bangkok’s main airports, stranding thousands of tourists.

A number of foreign governments have advised their nationals to avoid the current protest sites.

However, the protest movement insisted tourists had nothing to fear.

“Shops and hotels near the protest sites are full. I ask tourists to feel relieved — they can join the protesters,” spokesman Akanat Promphan said.

“I understand about some entrepreneurs’ concerns, but if the prime minister resigns, everything will be solved,” he added. Yingluck has called February elections, but the protesters have vowed to block the vote, which they fear will only return the Shinawatra clan to power.

The country’s Election Commission, whose call to postpone the polls was last week rejected by the government, said on Friday that the election was expected to go ahead.

The protesters have prevented candidates registering for the polls in several opposition-dominated southern provinces, potentially setting the stage for a situation in which there are not enough elected members of parliament after the polls to select a prime minister.

“We have reached the stage of impending civil war — in slow motion,” said Paul Chambers, director of research at the Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs at Chiang Mai University in northern Thailand.

He voiced fears of clashes between the opposition protesters and government supporters.

Eight people have already been killed and about 400 wounded in several outbreaks of street violence in recent weeks.

Thailand has been periodically convulsed by political bloodshed since Yingluck’s older brother Thaksin Shinawatra was overthrown by royalist generals in a coup in 2006.

The protesters, who largely comprise southerners, royalists, middle-class Thais and urban elite, accuse the billionaire tycoon-turned-politician of corruption and say he controls his sister’s government from his self-exile in Dubai.

They want an unelected “people’s council” to run the country to oversee loosely defined reforms — such as an end to alleged “vote buying” — before new elections are held in about one year to 18 months.

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