Thai buddhist monks gather with "Red Shirt" protesters in a commercial district of Bangkok. Thailand's government have urged "Red Shirt" protesters to return to negotiations as the army cleared abandoned armoured vehicles from Bangkok's streets after deadly weekend clashes.
via CAAI News Media
By Ambika Ahuja and Nopporn Wong-Anan Ambika Ahuja And Nopporn Wong-anan – Thu Apr 15,
BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai "red shirt" protesters brought in supplies to their base at an upmarket shopping district in the capital on Thursday, which they have vowed to make the final battleground in a quest to topple the government.
Despite the calm in Bangkok as it celebrated the final day of Thailand's three-day new year holiday, political analysts said Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's days were numbered and warned the risk of a military coup was escalating.
Financial markets reopen on Friday, and analysts expect shares to fall again after a 3.64 percent plunge on Monday following savage street fighting at the weekend in which at least 22 people were killed.
"We aren't making any move in the next couple of days as we will be busily putting facilities in place for our brothers and sisters after they return from the countryside," red shirt protest leader Nattawut Saikua said.
There seems no quick solution in sight to the protest campaign, which has lasted more than a month, and it looks set to hit growth in Southeast Asia's second-largest economy.
Investment bank Morgan Stanley calculates economic growth this year could be cut by 0.2 percentage point due to the impact on tourism, which accounts for 6 percent of gross domestic product in the "Land of Smiles" and employs 1.8 million people.
A bigger hit of up to 0.6 percentage points of GDP could come from the hit to consumer confidence in the capital which has borne the brunt of the fighting.
The government has forecast 4.5 percent growth this year if the protests were not prolonged.
A taste of the economic damage came from a tour operator group that said hotel occupancy rates in the capital were under 30 percent, less than the usual 80-90 percent.
"We are bleeding continuously as tour cancellations are made non-stop," Charoen Wangananont, a spokesman for the Federation of Thai Tourism Associations, told local cable news network TNN.
On Langsuan road, close to the protest site, a hotel porter dragged designer luggage down a small alley way to bypass roadblocks.
"Soon the hotel will be empty. It's almost a ghost hotel now," said the porter who spoke on condition of anonymity. He said occupancy rate at his hotel had dropped to 5 percent.
The road is home to the Grand Hyatt, the Four Seasons, and Marriott Courtyard among other luxury hotels and service apartments.
The police and army did not intervene to prevent the thousands of protesters from gathering and were not in evidence on Thursday after another peaceful night in the Thai capital.
The red shirts, mostly supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, want Abisit to quit immediately have said they will use their base in the Rachaprasong business district as a "final battleground."
Despite the calm, there appeared to be little chance of a peaceful resolution of to the conflict, the worst political violence in Thailand since 1992.
As the red shirts sought to consolidate their base, pro-government factions readied to take to the streets on Friday, saying that thousands would march in support of the army.
"We want the government and the military to perform their duty amid the crisis...We hope that they can resolve all the problems by the end of this week," said Tul Sitthisomwong, an organizer for a pro-government movement.
Abhisit has been largely absent from the media, ensconced in a fortified army base on the outskirts of Bangkok.
Government Spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said they believed there were gunmen hiding among the protesters and that Abhisit would remain in his army base.
"The situation is not normal so he (Abhisit) probably cannot talk to the press daily but he will communicate with the public from time to time," he said.
But his chances of political survival were seen as bleak.
"Badly damaged by the military response, Abhisit now has no other options than to go to the country or resign, both of which will set Thailand on course for an early election," risk consultancy Control Risks said in a report published on Thursday.
"If threatened further by political instability, created for example by snap polls, the threat of military leaders launching a coup would rapidly escalate," it said.
Thailand has had 18 coups in the past 77 years, most recently in 2006 when Thaksin was ousted.
Thaksin, who is in exile after he was sentenced to jail for corruption, said on his Facebook page that he was in Saudi Arabia and refuted rumors that he was ill.
"I have been to Riyadh and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia from April 10-12 at the invitation of a prince of Saudi Arabia to provide consultancy for projects to build two new towns," he wrote.
"So the rumor that I am ill isn't true," he said on his page (http://www.facebook.com/thaksinlive).
(Writing by David Chance; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)