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No Sign Thailand Protests Will Abate as Economic Toll Rises

No Sign Thailand Protests Will Abate as Economic Toll Risesi
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February 20, 2014 7:03 PM
Protests against Thailand's caretaker government show no sign of waning now that judges have ruled authorities cannot use force to disperse them. As VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok, this and other events are putting more pressure on the country's embattled caretaker government amid violence that left at least five people dead and dozens injured on Tuesday.]]
Protests against Thailand's caretaker government show no sign of waning now that judges have ruled authorities cannot use force to disperse them. This and other events are putting more pressure on the country's embattled caretaker government amid violence that left at least five people dead and dozens injured on Tuesday.

The latest headache for Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra - a convoy of tractors, driven by farmers who have been her core supporters - rolling towards the capital.

The farmers are angry they have not been paid for rice they sold to the government in a bungled crop-support scheme.

Meanwhile, Yingluck's primary nemesis has begun targeting businesses linked to her family.

The coalition of anti-government demonstrators are being instructed to boycott all products of the Shinawatra family empire.

Yingluck's elder billionaire brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted as prime minister in a 2006 military coup and faces prison for a corruption conviction should he return home from self-imposed exile.

The months of sometimes deadly street protests are taking their toll on the country's economy.

Economic growth sharply dipped in the fourth quarter of last year and projections are that the political turmoil means a continuing slowdown for this year.

One ratings agency, Fitch, warns risks to Thailand's financial system are rising as the government scrambles to pay those irate rice farmers.

Tourists, especially those from China and Japan, have been canceling trips.

The owner of a shoe store (who identified herself only by her nickname “Pan”) said most of her customers come from Singapore and since the trouble began, she's only making about $300 worth of sales per day - half of what it used to be.

“We usually have a lot of foreign customers in this area, but with this situation we are seeing 30 to 40 percent fewer tourists,” she said.

At a nearby seafood restaurant, which relies on Chinese tourists, a similar complaint.

The Burmese manager (identifying himself only as “Mr. Gi”) said income has fallen from $1,700 per day to around $450 daily. 

“We're not getting a lot of customers. They are a bit afraid of the situation around here even though we've told them it is safe,” he said.

Although a civil court has now ruled authorities cannot use force to disperse demonstrators, many protestors are skeptical they will be unmolested.

“I don't believe they will obey the court ruling not to use force to disperse us. They will definitely find another method to make trouble for us again,” said homemaker Chollada Wireapornsawan.

There is growing concern among international observers that a prolonged standoff could cause the situation to escalate out of control.

Human Rights Watch accuses both the police and protestors of unlawful actions resulting in deaths and injuries. It warns that "impunity for violence and rights abuses is a recipe for lawlessness and extended tit-for-tat violence.”

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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