* Bangkok calm; troops restore order
* Curfew extended for 3 days
* Unrest could cost Thai economy $3 billion - source
(Adds scattered unrest in northern Bangkok area)
By Jason Szep and Ambika Ahuja
BANGKOK, May 20 Thai authorities restored order
over most of Bangkok on Thursday but the peace looked fragile,
a day after rioting and fires that veered towards anarchy as
troops took control of a camp occupied by anti-government
Thousands of the mostly rural and urban poor "red shirt"
protesters had deserted their once-barricaded rally site in
central Bangkok, but the tough crackdown and bloodshed raised
fears of deepening anger among Thailand's underclasses.
Modern Thailand has never seen such a protracted period of
urban violence, deadly riots, clashes and widespread
destruction, and has never teetered so close to full civil
"Thailand has become a nation deeply divided, and although
talk of a civil war may still be premature, there is a high
risk that civil unrest and political violence will not be
contained," said Danny Richards, analyst at the Economist
The crackdown that began before dawn on Wednesday morning
killed 15 people and wounded nearly 100. About 1,500 protesters
took refuge in a temple, where six bodies were found on
Thursday. Hundreds who remained inside were coaxed out by
Dozens of buildings were torched, including many banks, the
stock exchange and Southeast Asia's second-biggest department
store. By morning, the worse was over. The protesters were
Some unrest continued in the Din Daeng area, scene of
intense fighting last weekend. Dozens of protesters burned
tyres and set a bank building ablaze. Troops fired warning
shots. But compared to recent fighting, the area was remarkably
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Political analysts say the next step is up to Prime
Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who some say will forever be
tarnished by overseeing military operations in which 82 people,
mostly civilians, have been killed since April 10.
Nearly 1,800 people have been wounded in the period as the
government, backed by Thailand's royalist establishment, and
the protesters with their support from the rural masses and
ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, failed to find common
"He is more than tarnished," Michael Montesano of
Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asian Studies said of the
British-born, Oxford-educated Abhisit.
"All extenuating circumstances notwithstanding, he will
always be recalled as the man whose miscalculated incursion led
to a burning Bangkok."
Troops have now established control of Bangkok and the
protest encampment occupied since April 3, but at great cost.
Checkpoints of armed troops form a 6 sq-km (2.3 sq-mile)
cordon in Bangkok, a city of 15 million known for its raucous
nightlife but now reduced to smouldering fires, scarred
streets, and 9 p.m. night curfews.
"The question is: how long do troops have to be deployed on
this level in the city? The anger is still simmering," said
Tanet Charoengmuang, a political scientist at Chiang Mai
The red shirts want fresh elections, saying Abhisit lacks a
popular mandate after coming to power in a controversial
parliamentary vote in 2008 with tacit military support. Abhisit
last week withdrew an offer of fresh elections.
Analysts say regardless of the outcome, the violence marked
a turning point in a country where the richest 20 percent of
the population earn about 55 percent of the income while the
poorest fifth get 4 percent, according to the World Bank.
But protest leaders, now detained, called for calm.
"Democracy cannot be built on revenge and anger," Veera
Musikapong, chairman of the United Front for Democracy Against
Dictatorship, known as the red shirts, said in a televised
statement while in custody, calling on protesters to go home.
Thailand's unifying figure, revered 82-year-old King
Bhumibol Adulyadej, has not publicly commented on the current
bout of turmoil in the kingdom, after defusing previous crises
during his 63 years on the throne -- including the last
political riots in Bangkok -- on the same date 18 years ago.
The king has been in hospital since Sept. 19.
The unrest has hammered Thailand's lucrative tourism
industry, which supports six percent of Southeast Asia's
second-biggest economy and employs 15 percent of Thailand's
workforce directly or indirectly. [ID:nSGE64J0F5]
A source at state planning agency National Economic and
Social Development Board said the economic impact of nine weeks
of political turmoil and rioting would easily cost $3 billion,
or about one percentage point of gross domestic product.
A curfew in Bangkok and 23 provinces was extended for
another three nights, raising questions about whether
authorities feared more unrest in a country where the ranks of
the military and the police are split along the same
socio-economic fault lines dividing protesters from the
government and its affluent backers.
The rioting spread to north and northeast provinces, a
red-shirt stronghold and home to just over half of Thailand's
67 million people. But trouble spots were quiet on Thursday and
protest leaders urged calm. [ID:nSGE64J0G8]
Army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said about 13,000 people
were still "actively waiting to riot and perpetrate illegal
acts" in provinces under a state of emergency.
In Bangkok, fires at 39 sites still smouldered but most had
been extinguished. Central World (CPN.BK), Southeast Asia's
second-biggest department store and a symbol of wealth, was
destroyed. Many of its supporting steel beams had collapsed.
"WOUNDED HEARTS AND MINDS"
The protesters' tented encampment in the heart of Bangkok's
commercial district -- an area lined with luxury hotels and
shopping plazas -- was strewn with rubbish, clothing and the
smell of refuse and human waste. Troops roamed the area and
some were positioned on an overhead subway system.
There were no signs of clashes.
Groups of soldiers sat on a sidewalk near the twisted
wreckage of trucks that had been packed with explosives and
blown up at barricades overnight. They looked relaxed in
contrast to the tension of recent days, smiling at journalists.
Ten journalists have been shot in six days of violence,
including an Italian cameraman killed on Wednesday.
The surrender of key protest leaders on Wednesday and a
seeming end for now to violence that has killed at least 53
people and wounded more than 400 in six days could put the
focus back on early elections and a "reconciliation roadmap"
the prime minister had proposed before the latest bout of
"We can immediately fix the roads but we do not know how
long it will take to fix the wounded hearts and minds of the
people," Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra told local
(Additional reporting by Damir Sagolj, Nopporn Wong-Anan and
Vithoon Amorn; Writing by Jason Szep; Editing by Bill Tarrant)