The Global Urbanist

News and analysis of cities around the world


The protests are over, but Bangkok residents will struggle to rebuild their lives

While the Thai army secure the final outposts of the Red Shirt protesters, residents and informal workers who relied on the businesses and trade of the Ratchaprasong district must now struggle to rebuild their livelihoods amidst the burnt-out buildings and shopping malls.

Cities: Bangkok

Topics: Emergencies and reconstruction, Labour and livelihoods, Social conflict

Bangkok residents are picking up the pieces after weeks of protests ended in rioting and bloodshed on 19 May.

Protesters spent nearly two months in fortified camps before consolidating their position in a 3 kmĀ² area in the city's commercial district. On 19 May, The Thai army launched a crackdown to end the stand-off, leaving parts of the city centre badly scarred.

Since mid-March, thousands of anti-government protesters - known as "Red Shirts" - had gathered in the city to demand the ouster of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who came to power in December 2008 following a special parliamentary vote.

As residents awoke on 20 May, parts of the city were littered with burned tyres, broken glass and rubbish, while more than 24 buildings had been set ablaze by angry protesters, including the stock exchange, banks and one of Southeast Asia's largest shopping malls.

Ruined businesses

The conflict has caused millions of dollars in damage to homes and businesses, and after weeks with few customers, many residents are feeling the squeeze.

Aanchit used to net between US $25 and $50 per day selling food from his stall on Rama IV Road until the demonstrators occupied the street.

"The protest ruined my business," he told IRIN. "My cart got burned last night when the [Red Shirts] retreated and set fire to the building," he says, pointing to a low-rise gutted by fire and guarded by troops.

The once bustling thoroughfare is covered in soot from burnt tyres and lined with scorched buildings, their plastic signs often melted and hanging like candle wax.

His wife Amboy says the business is their lifeblood and their only hope of their children escaping poverty.

"We do not have a nice house, but we want our children to have better," Aanchit says, adding that his savings will be largely used up after the food cart is repaired.

The conflict meant visitors avoided the area as offices shut businesses and embassies closed their doors altogether.

"When people don't go to work, that means they don't take lunch breaks and I don't earn an income," said the father of four. The loss has left him with mixed feelings about the protest movement.

Pitched battles

"I like Thaksin [Shinawatra, former prime minister ousted in a coup], but I think this demonstration went on too long. I think the protesters should have accepted a compromise," says Pornchai, who hails from the Red Shirt stronghold of Isaan.

Two nights ago, his street was the site of pitched battles between security forces and protesters, with Red Shirts seen shooting homemade weapons at troops.

Houses and shops were hit by army sniper fire from a nearby high rise, causing thousands of dollars in damage and forcing many residents to flee for their lives.

Chong, 55, was forced to leave after demonstrators set fire to tyres on the street and said they were preparing to detonate a petroleum truck. At about midnight, protesters ran down the road banging on doors and screaming for residents to leave.

"I will probably spend about a month's income repairing my home … It is difficult because I am already in debt," she said, pointing to the bullet holes through her second storey window. "I would have never thought that snipers would be shooting into my front room," said the mother of four.

Livelihood threatened

During the night, the violence was scattered in pockets throughout the city, affecting everyone from wealthy mall owners to poor street vendors.

One of the worst-hit areas was Ratchaprasong, an upmarket shopping district in Bangkok's commercial heart. For mall staff, almost two months without work has meant the loss of much-needed earnings.

"I have not been to work since the protests started … My wife is back in the village and I have not sent her money for almost four weeks," said Krasong, who has a child with respiratory problems.

"I had difficulty affording medical care when I was working, so it is even worse now," he said outside the posh Central Mall.

By midday (5am GMT), the once gleaming shopping complex was still smouldering, meaning staff like Krasong are unlikely to be back to work for months.

"I will have to find a new job, but with the economy like this, I may have to go back home."

Since the protests began, at least 75 people have been killed and more than 1,000 have been injured.

As of 20 May, the Thai government is maintaining an emergency decree across 50 percent of the country's provinces to respond to and help prevent the outbreak of further protests and violence.

A Bangkok-wide curfew from 21:00 until 05:00 is in effect until 22 May.

Source: the humanitarian news and analysis service, IRIN,


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