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Bangkok Businesses, Workers Struggle as Protests Drag On


Receptionists at the empty Indara massage shop in Bangkok

Receptionists at the empty Indara massage shop in Bangkok

Thousands of Bangkok workers and hundreds of businesses have seen their incomes drop as protests have clogged a central part of the city for weeks. And although the anti-government protesters have agreed to a government reconciliation plan, it is not clear when they will leave the city.

Suchart Lapaparat pours out cups of hot, milky tea, dropping the liquid from the jug to the cup in long-armed movements. But there are no customers to drink it.

Suchart Lapaparat pours hot tea at his store inside the red shirt protest zone in central Bangkok. He says he is losing money from the protests.

Suchart Lapaparat pours hot tea at his store inside the red shirt protest zone in central Bangkok. He says he is losing money from the protests.

His coffee shop is in the middle of the opposition red shirt's protest camp in Bangkok, and business is down. Office workers in this upscale area town are his usual customers, but many have been frightened off.

He says his earnings have dropped from around $60 a day before expenses to just half that. He has been forced to borrow $900 from relatives.

Suchart says he agrees with the red shirts' political demands, but the protesters have been here too long.

Protests cause loss of business, affect livelihood

There are estimates that up to 100,000 people have lost their jobs or face bankruptcy because of the two-month long protests.

Thousands of protesters are camped in the middle of the Rajaprasong commercial district. Some of the city's biggest shopping malls and at least four large hotels have been forced to close because of security fears.

This week, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and the red shirts agreed to dissolve parliament and call elections, but protest leaders vow to continue their occupation of downtown Bangkok until final details are settled.

At the nearby Indara massage shop, workers sit idle as music plays on speakers.

Receptionist Natthanisha Jankaew says the number of customers has pass dropped from more than 100 a day to about 10. Around 50 masseuses have been fired already and the remaining staff had their wages cut from around 450 dollars a month to 250.

She says she is angry with the protesters, who she says are wild and disrespectful people.

Across the street at the Super Rich money exchange, less money is changing hands.

Deputy manager Sukit Susamakulwong says trade has dropped 50 percent, largely because customers carrying cash do not want to walk through red shirt checkpoints.

"The red shirts, they have the guard or the body guard, they inspect everything the person who carry the bag and sometimes the customer," says Sukit Susamakulwong. "They put the money in the bag or in a packet, sometimes the red shirt bodyguards want to check what's in the bag and that's the point for the customer, they're not sure for their safety."

Political unrest affects tourism, devastating for long-term economic situation

He says one of the biggest problems has been foreign tourists being frightened by the risk of violence. At least 27 people have died in different incidents since the protests began in March.

"What they are doing right now they make the country in big trouble. We lost the customer, we lost the foreigner, who want to come traveling in the country and we lost the investor who wants to look around, invest their money in Thailand, and that's a big loss," Sukit adds.

The government has said it will offer help to people who have lost jobs and money due to the protests.

But across Thailand, the effects are being felt. Tourism, which employs two million people, is down, because travelers fear getting caught in unrest. The finance minister has warned continued unrest could cut economic growth by two percentage points - to about 2.5 percent this year.

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