BANGKOK Jan 14 Protesters may have closed major
intersections of Bangkok in a bid to topple Thailand's
government, but it's been more or less business as usual for the
capital's shops and department stores.
The city's normally congested streets were largely devoid of
traffic on Tuesday and 36 commercial bank branches were closed,
but most shops and private offices near the seven neighbourhoods
occupied by thousands of protesters were open for business.
At the Terminal 21 mall, shop assistant Supaporn Numsunksays
said the protests were driving foreign tourists inside the
complex for respite from noisy protest speeches and shrill
whistles by demonstrators.
"Business has been normal because tourists have no choice
but to walk inside," said Supaporn, who works at 'Sarah's Wand',
a store selling soaps and body washes. "They can't really hang
around outside with the protesters."
Bangkok's demonstrations, which have been gathering pace for
weeks, could cost the economy as much as 1 billion baht ($30
million) a day, according to a survey by the University of the
Thai Chamber of Commerce.
The aim was not to cripple businesses in Bangkok but to
tighten blockades around ministries to prevent civil servants
from going to work, protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said.
"I apologise to Bangkok residents for the inconvenience ...
our aim is not to target business or tourism," Suthep said on
The Thai baht hit a near-three-week high as
investors covered short positions built amid the mounting unrest
as most emerging Asian currencies slid on stock market weakness.
It rose as much as 0.9 percent to 32.70 per dollar, its
strongest since Dec. 25, on stop-loss dollar selling.
There were no reports of violence from the protest areas by
Tuesday and people who make a living there were struck by the
"It isn't scary at all," said Oranuch Sittikhet, 45, who
owns a food stall near the upmarket Siam Paragon mall but has
temporarily switched to selling protest merchandise, including
banners, baseball caps and T-shirts carrying the slogan "Bangkok
"NOT IN THE MOOD TO SPEND"
Protest leaders say demonstrators will camp out on the
streets of the capital until an unelected "people's council"
replaces Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's administration.
They had planned to "shut down" the city of 12 million, but
- with train and river ferry services operating as normal - most
commuters headed to work as usual on Tuesday, although some
state schools and universities remain closed until Wednesday.
The rallies have caused some disruptions to supply chains,
however, and 21 gas and petrol filling stations were closed.
Blocked roads prevented operators from bringing in supplies,
said Somnuek Bamrungsalee, director-general of the government's
Energy Business Department.
At least five major retail centres near protest sites said
they would shut their doors earlier than usual.
"Because of road closures we are closing an hour earlier so
our employees can make their way home," Prasert Sriuranpong,
President of Terminal 21, told Reuters.
Restaurants have enjoyed brisk business, with protesters
dropping by for food and shelter from the heat, said Prasert,
but fashion retailers are seeing some slowdown.
"People are not in the mood to spend, especially not on high
fashion," he added.
The rally is reminiscent of a lengthy protest in 2010 that
closed off many of the same areas of Bangkok and ended with a
military crackdown that killed dozens of people.
This time, security forces are keeping a low profile and
ministers are hoping the protest will run out of steam before it
comes to bloodshed.
($1=32.9750 Thai baht)
(Addtional reporting by Khettiya Jittapong; Editing by John
Chalmers and Clarence Fernandez)