Bangkok limps back to normal, but divisions remain

Saturday, May 22, 2010

BANGKOK - A nighttime curfew remained in force in Bangkok Saturday and mass transit services were suspended in the wake of a week of political violence that left more than 53 people dead and 415 injured.

A massive clean-up was under way in the central Ratchaprasong area, Bangkok’s ritziest shopping and hotel district, where thousands of anti-government protestors had camped April 3 to May 19.

The squatters, mainly poor rural and urban followers of fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, were chased out of the area Wednesday by Thai troops and armoured vehicles.

The MRT subway system announced it would resume operations Sunday, and the above-ground Skytrain system said it would resume service Sunday or Monday after the rail lines are checked by technicians.

Education Minister Chinnaworn Boonyakiat said most public schools would reopen for the new semester Monday after a week’s delay.

However, 28 schools within seven Bangkok districts declared disaster zones - Bang Rak, Din Daeng, Pathum Wan, Klong Toey, Sathorn, Wattana and Ratchathewi - would remain closed until May 31.

Thirty-six buildings were destroyed or heavily damaged in arson attacks in the wake of the army assault on Ratchaprasong.

Central World, one of the largest shopping malls in Asia, was one of the worst hit. The city said Saturday that firetrucks would remain at the smouldering ruin for another week as a precaution.

The body of a young man was found on the fourth floor of Central World Friday and Thai news reports said nine more bodies were found in the building’s basement.

An official of the government’s Erawan Emergency Centre said the nine badly burned bodies had not yet been removed from the building.

“We have been informed about the nine bodies in Central World, but we don’t include them into our list because they have not been identified,” said the official, who asked not to be named.

In a speech Friday, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva pledged to work for national reconciliation.

“We have restored order in the capital of Bangkok and in the provinces of Thailand,” Abhisit said. “There are huge challenges ahead of us, particularly the challenge of overcoming the divisions that have occurred in the country.”

But reconciliation appeared elusive amid widespread anger among Abhisit’s political enemies at the military crackdown.

It was also unclear whether Abhisit would go ahead with his “road map” to national reconciliation, which included an early dissolution of parliament and an election in November.

Rejection of this plan by hard-line protestors led to the decision to clear the central shopping district by force.

The United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, supported politically and financially from abroad by telecommunications tycoon Thaksin, started demonstrating in Bangkok March 12.

Its aim was to bring about early elections, which they were confident of winning because of Thaksin’s strong support in the populous northern and northeastern provinces.

Thaksin was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and fled the country after he was convicted of abuse of power. He was sentenced to two years in jail by a Thai court, and more than a billion dollars of his assets were seized.

Jaturon Chaisaeng, a key political ally of Thaksin, was quoted by the Bangkok Post website Saturday as saying red shirt protestors might go underground to carry on their struggle against the Abhisit government.

“This would worsen the ongoing political conflict and could lead to a more critical situation,” Jaturon warned.

Filed under: Politics

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