Bangkok: Troops manned razor-wire roadblocks and searched vehicles for weapons in Bangkok on Friday, two days after they ended anti-government protests that descended into the worst violence in modern Thai history.
Hundreds of troops again swept through the capital’s posh central shopping area, once a barricaded camp for thousands of “red shirt” protesters, searching for weapons and explosives in the now-deserted battleground. Department stores still smouldered after Wednesday’s violence.
Finance minister Korn Chatikavanij expressed confidence that the economy would pick up fairly quickly if the stability seen over the past 24 hours was maintained.
But he acknowledged that tourism, which employs at least 15% of the workforce and accounts for 6% of the economy, would take much longer to recover.
“Clearly, with the events that took place the past several weeks and pictures of those events flashing across TV screens around the world, it is going to have a very disastrous impact on tourism as a sector, probably, frankly speaking, for the remainder of the year,” Korn said at a seminar in Tokyo.
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who the red shirts want to step aside, will address the nation in a live television broadcast at 11:15 am (0515 GMT), a government spokesman said.
Cleaning ladies scrubbed the entrances to Bangkok’s ritziest stores to remove soot left from burning tyre barricades. Firemen trained a hose on a mass of rubble and twisted metal that was once part of Central World, southeast Asia’s second-largest department store.
Outside the 6 sq-km (2.3 sq-mile) ringed-off area, Bangkok’s chaotic traffic clogged roads as travellers were forced around the military zone. Many shops and banks were closed, public transport was limited and a week-long public holiday ensured many of the 15 million residents stayed at home.
A nation divided
With an overnight curfew in force for at least two more nights and mopping-up operations continuing under a state of emergency, officials may have their work cut out trying to reassure foreign investors and tourists Thailand is safe.
“This has gravely shaken confidence in Thailand. What businesses need now is that the government and security forces restore law and order and existing businesses can resume their operations,” Nandor von der Luehe, chairman of the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce of Thailand, told Reuters.
“At the same time, the government should ensure that the armed elements do not go underground and start a guerrilla war in Bangkok and around the country. If such a scenario happened, it would drive businesses away from Thailand,” he said.
The military crackdown on the nine-week anti-government protest in Bangkok began before dawn on Wednesday, killing at least 15 people and wounding nearly 100.
Erawan Emergency Medical Centre said 52 people had died and 408 were wounded in the latest flare-up since 14 May.
Dozens of buildings were torched, including many banks and the stock exchange. The stock market is closed but the central bank said banks inside shopping malls could reopen on Friday.
Modern Thailand has never seen such a protracted period of urban violence or teetered so close to full civil conflict.
“Thailand has become a nation deeply divided, and although talk of a civil war may still be premature, there is a high risk that civil unrest and political violence will not be contained,” said Danny Richards at the Economist Intelligence Unit.
The red shirts want fresh elections, saying Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva lacks a popular mandate after coming to power in a controversial parliamentary vote in 2008 with tacit military support. Abhisit last week withdrew an offer of fresh elections.
The red shirts broadly support former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted by the military in 2006 and now living in self-imposed exile to avoid a jail term for abuse of power.
Thaksin has been sighted in Paris recently and had planned to hold a news conference there to discuss events in Bangkok, but the French authorities have warned him off.
“Given the context of violence in Thailand ... we informed Mr Thaksin, who is on a private trip, that he should avoid making any public displays or statements during his stay on our territory,” French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bruno Valero said.