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Thai Economy Suffers as Bangkok Airport Blockade Drags On

Thailand's economy is taking a hit from the closure of two main airports by anti-government protesters. As VOA's Kate Pound Dawson reports from Bangkok, big and small businesses are suffering.

With no tourists getting in or out of Bangkok's international and domestic airports, and no exports going out either, business experts say the damage to the economy will be deep and widespread.

Already, the government estimates as many as one million tourism industry workers will lose their jobs in the coming year in part because of the damage to Thailand's reputation as a tourist destination.

And the Federation of Thai Industries estimates the economy is losing as much as $85 million a day because of the crisis.

Dusit Nontanakorn is vice chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce. He says tourism and agricultural exports, such as flowers and fresh fruit, are suffering the most right now. But he adds, manufacturers may also run into problems if they can not get air cargo shipped.

"Because if the customers understand the situation, that it will be only short-term, it will be O.K., but if they have a difficult time to understand it would be bad because they have to trust that the manufacturers can continue to supply the products to them," Dusit said. "And if they have confidence in the country they still carry on the orders, but once they are not having confidence in the country, it will be difficult."

Thousands of anti-government protesters, led by the People's Alliance for Democracy, have occupied the airports for a week. The PAD demands that Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat resign and accuses him of acting on behalf of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who has been convicted on corruption charges.

Tens of thousands of tourists are stranded in the city, growing angrier by the day at being unable to get home.

The economic pain caused by the protest is hitting small businesses as well as large ones. Eric Forbes owns a jewelry company that relies heavily on exports. The airport closure means few of his shipments can go out, and those that do go cost more because he has to use a private courier company instead of the less expensive Thai postal service's express mail.

"We have no walk-in tourists so we've lost our walk-in business," Forbes said. "Customers have stopped sending in stones because we do some cutting as well. Due to the shutdown of the airport, we're unable to ship in or out except by Fedex…. There's really very few options right now except to hope this crisis calms down soon."

The government has arranged for a handful of daily flights to take tourists home, using a small military airport outside Bangkok. But business leaders say nothing will really ease the pain until the international airport is open. That, say protest leaders, political analysts and some business experts, could be days away.