Anti-government protesters gather during a rally at the
Shinawatra building in central Bangkok. Photo by Reuters
Thai officials assessing whether to maintain a state of
emergency, which business leaders want lifted, have deferred
their decision, hours after two people were wounded in a
shooting at the site of anti-government protests.
The protests aimed at bringing down Prime Minister Yingluck
Shinawatra have been going on for four months and are taking
a toll on the economy, with consumer confidence at a 12-year
Twenty-three people have been killed, most of them in
shootings and grenade blasts, since late November.
The political uncertainty is unnerving consumers and the
violence is scaring tourists away from Bangkok. Lower
spending is hitting automakers, property firms and hotels in
Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy.
Surapong Techruvichit, president of the Thai Hotels
Association, said the occupancy rate had plunged to 20 to 25
percent in Bangkok in January-February from 70 to 80 percent
in the same months last year.
The end of the 60-day emergency, imposed in Bangkok on Jan.
22 in a bid to contain the unrest, would be a good start for
getting business back on its feet, he said.
"If it's lifted, I think we can get back the tourists within
two weeks to a month," he told Reuters. "It won't be good
just for the hotel industry but for all business."
But the head of the National Security Council said no
decision had been reached and the situation would be assessed
"We'll let our military and police intelligence units
consider whether the emergency decree should continue or
not," Paradorn Pattanathabutr told reporters.
The protests are the latest bout of nearly a decade of
political conflict that has set the Bangkok-based royalist
establishment against the political machine of Yingluck's
brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Former telecoms tycoon Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 coup and
has been in self-imposed exile since 2008 to avoid a two-year
jail term for a graft conviction he says was politically
motivated. He is widely seen as the power behind Yingluck's
The main opposition party boycotted a February 2 election and
protesters disrupted polls Yingluck's ruling party looked set
to win. The protesters have lost faith in elections, which
Thaksin's parties keep winning, and want to change the
political system to end his influence.
The protesters have scaled back action over the past week,
lifting the occupation of several main intersections, but
several thousand are camping out in Bangkok's Lumpini Park,
where shooting erupted in the early hours.
Police said a taxi driver and a female passer-by were wounded
by shots coming from the park.
The military, which has a long record of intervention in
politics, has declined to get involved this time and has
instead urged the rival sides to talk.
However, soldiers are visible in Bangkok, mainly at
bunker-like posts protected with sandbags and camouflage
Yingluck expressed her fear that the intimidating-looking
posts could further alarm tourists and as a result some have
been decorated with pink flowers in pots.
"We've allowed this to soften up the atmosphere,"
Major-General Wara Boonyasit told Reuters.
Yingluck heads a caretaker government until polling begun on
February 2 can be completed and parliament can convene,
although both the prime minister and the election itself face
various legal challenges.
One of the potentially most serious ones Yingluck faces is
dereliction of duty brought against her by the National
Anti-Corruption Commission over a rice-subsidy scheme that
has failed, leaving hundreds of thousands of farmers unpaid
and causing huge losses to the budget.
She has been given time to defend herself. The commission
then has to decide whether there is a case to pursue and, if
it goes ahead, she may be forced out of office.
Yingluck repeated on Friday that she has no intention of
stepping down and was determined to defend democracy.