Thursday 20th May 2010

As morning dawned in Bangkok today the sight of smoldering buildings dominates the skyline and serves as a sad reminder of the events of the past few days. It is currently estimated that at least 7 people have been killed and a further 88 wounded during the latest military operation that commenced on May 13th, and that 75 people have been killed and nearly 1,800 wounded in total since the trouble started in March.

Despite the fact that the Red Shirt demonstrators in the capital surrendered yesterday, events overnight confirm earlier suspicions that the protests are not over. Expatriates are being warned that the unrest is spreading further and that the current crisis is by no means at an end.

Protestors began burning buildings immediately after the surrender of the Red Shirt leaders and overnight last night Bangkok suffered over 34 different arson attacks on shopping complexes, hotels and public buildings. 
The Centre for Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES) issued a statement describing these attacks as acts of terrorism and have warned protestors that offenders will be sentences to death. Outside of Bangkok, Chiangmai, Khon Kaen, Ubon Ratchatani, Udon Thani and Mukdaharn have also experienced arson overnight attacks.

Expats life in Bangkok in turmoil

Life in Bangkok for expatriates has been interesting to say the least over the past few days. Schools and commercial offices have been closed and the majority of expatriates have opted to stay at home, away from the trouble. Expatriates watched on in horror as CentralWorld, the world’s second largest shopping centre was set alight by protestors together with many banks, utility stations and other public buildings. Speaking in UK newspaper The Times, one Australian expat commented: “I was shocked that it had come this.

“I had thought it would go off but all of a sudden these people were leaderless with no one holding the reins. I chose to live here because I like the usual chaos of the place but this is anarchy it is distressing.

“But most of all I am really, really sad for Thailand.”

On Wednesday 38 expatriate medical professionals were evacuated from their apartments in Bangkok. The evacuation took place after the expats made emergency calls for help, fearing that their confrontations near their apartment complex in Soi Rangnam and Soi Rajvithi were putting their lives at risk. Discussing the situation, Narumoi Sawanpanyalert from Rajvithi Hospital's Emergency Medical Service Centre, told the Asiaone news company:

"Three ambulances were dispatched to help them.

“It was very risky for the rescue team to get there. There was a banner there reading 'this is a live firing zone',

“Some of them have not had anything to eat for two days.”

"A soldier advised us not to spend too much time in the area," she added.

On Tuesday the Thai authorities imposed a curfew from 8pm onwards Tuesday evening until 6am Wednesday and this has now been extended for three more nights in Bangkok and 23 other provinces. Speaking to the press, Dithaporn Sasasmit, a spokesman for the Internal Security Operation Commanded, disclosed that the Prime Minister had “agreed to impose the curfew to better secure the area and curtail their activities.”

The protests and civil unrest had also had a devastating effect on the economy and it is currently estimated that the protests have set back economic growth in the country by more than 0.5%. The Board of Trade in Thailand believe that the country has experienced losses in excess of 500 billion and that it will take at least six months for the country to regain the confidence of investors.

Expats warned to stay away

The Foreign offices of countries all over the world are warning expatriates to stay clear of Bangkok. The British Foreign Office called the situation, “highly uncertain” and commented: “We judge that the risk to the safety of British nationals has increased.” They also warned of violence in Pattaya, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Ayutthaya.

This sentiment is echoed by the Australian embassy, who have closed their doors and warned expatriates living in the military cordon to leave Bangkok as a matter of urgency.

The US state department also warned their citizens: “Due to escalating violence in central Bangkok, including gunfire near the U.S. Embassy, demonstrations in Chiang Mai, and other incidents throughout Thailand, U.S. citizens should defer all travel to Bangkok and defer all non-essential travel to the rest of Thailand."

Read the full article: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article7131221.ece

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