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Thai turmoil to “slam already reeling economy”

Posted on: April 15, 2009

By MALCOLM FOSTER,AP Business Writer

AP – Tuesday, April 14

BANGKOK – The violent showdown between protesters and security forces in Thailand’s capital will slam the country’s tourism industry, dealing another blow to an economy already bruised by the global slowdown, business leaders and officials said Monday.

With Bangkok, the capital, under a state of emergency and thousands of anti-government protesters roaming its streets, Australia, China, France, Britain, South Korea, and the U.S. warned citizens in Thailand to stay indoors or cautioned against traveling to the country.

Major shopping malls in central Bangkok were closed Monday as soldiers at various points around the city advanced on red-shirted protesters loyal to ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, firing weapons into the air.

The turmoil, combined with the fallout from the airport shutdown late last year, will likely slash tourism revenue by a third from 2008 _ or 200 billion baht ($5.6 billion) _ as foreigners shun the country, said Kongkrit Hiranyakit, chairman of the Tourism Council of Thailand.

That could lead to 200,000 jobs lost at hotels and other travel businesses, he said. All told, Thailand’s tourism industry directly employs about 2 million people.

“This is very serious,” Kongkrit said. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

The upheaval is the latest blow to Thailand’s economy and international reputation, coming just five months after rival protesters _ clad in yellow to symbolize devotion to Thailand’s king _ occupied Bangkok’s two main airports for about a week, stranding tens of thousands of tourists and blocking shipments.

“This is our first time here, so coming into this mess, it’s shocking,” said Georg Brandmayr, a 29-year-old Austrian who arrived with his girlfriend Sunday. “We saw a burning bus and lots of soldiers with guns.”

They were moving to a hotel further away from the chaos, but still planning to travel to the northern city of Chiang Mai and return to Bangkok later this week.

Despite the crackdown, authorities had only partial success in dispersing the protesters, who are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva just four months into his rule. More than 70 people have been injured.

Dozens of Western tourists were seen rushing out of Bangkok hotels with their suitcases Monday morning and piling into taxis to flee.

The turmoil is also likely to give pause to foreign businesses considering building factories or making other investments in the country.

“New industries such as automobile, auto parts, electronic parts, and food may look at other countries,” said Santi Vilassakdanont, president of the Federal of Thai Industries. “It’s possible that they may change the manufacturing base.”

Santi said he was fielding many calls from investors, including from China and Japan, about the government’s policies and country’s stability and security.

Thailand’s export-dependent economy, Southeast Asia’s second-largest after Indonesia, is already contracting as demand dries up for autos, electronics and other goods. The World Bank earlier this month projected that Thailand’s economy would contract 2.7 percent this year after growing 2.6 percent last year.

Thailand’s long-running political crisis intensified over the weekend, when more than 1,000 anti-government protesters stormed a convention center in the beach resort of Pattaya, forcing the abrupt cancellation of a 16-nation Asian summit.

Asian leaders, who were evacuated by helicopter from the venue, are from nations that represent about 60 percent of Thailand’s visitors, said Kongkrit.

Already, “there are a lot of cancellations, and those (tourists) in Bangkok want to move to the countryside,” said Apichart Sankary, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents.

Some travelers are heading home early amid concerns that the airport might be closed again, he said.

Apichart called for political reconciliation _ and for a nationwide apology from the Thai people to the nations at the Asian summit.

“If we don’t have unity, people don’t want to come,” he said.


1 Response to "Thai turmoil to “slam already reeling economy”"

Have lived here for 7 years and the Thai have done this to themselfs because they are a very uneducated people and can be lead like sheep.There lies have caught up with them and now they heave to pay the price.For years they have treated Tourist and ex-pats very poorly with there stupid immagration laws and double charging us.We ex-pat are just laughing at this rather stupid people.

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