BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thousands of Thais launched a massive clean-up operation in Bangkok’s charred commercial district on Sunday as the city prepared for the resumption of business after the worst riots in modern history.
Thailand’s stock exchange and other financial markets will resume full-day trading on Monday, after being closed on Thursday and Friday following a wave of arson and street battles when the army dispersed thousands of anti-government protesters. “Our trading system and those of our members are ready to resume operations,” Stock Exchange of Thailand President Patareeya Benjapolchai said in a statement.
She later told Reuters that she expected an inflow of foreign capital into Thai stocks as price-earnings ratios were the lowest among peer markets and export and energy stocks would be resilient.
Analysts however disagreed.
“The political problems are not over and the possibility of new violence is something the market will be looking out for. The market will also catch up with the losses in equities worldwide last week due to the problems with Greek debt,” said Kiatkong Decho, a strategist at CIMB Securities (Thailand).
Thai stocks were the darling of foreign investors earlier this year, with an estimated $1.8 billion flowing in from February until April 9, a day before violence broke out.
Now, the bourse has seen a net outflow of foreign capital in the year to date, to the tune of 218 million baht ($6.7 million), according to exchange data.
Government offices and schools are also scheduled to reopen on Monday, but a curfew in the city and 23 provinces was extended on Sunday for two more nights.
At least 54 people were killed and more than 400 injured in the latest bout of violence which began on May 14. Almost 40 buildings in the city were set on fire and the tourism and retail sectors have been devastated.
There has been little violence since the rioting ended on Thursday but police said a gunman fired pistol shots at a bank building in the city’s suburbs in the early hours of Sunday. Glass doors were shattered but there were no casualties and it appeared to be an isolated incident, an official said.
READY FOR BUSINESS
Otherwise, the city of 15 million looked eager for normal business to resume.
At the charred protest site in Bangkok’s Rachaprasong district which the red shirt protesters had occupied, thousands of Bangkok residents armed with straw brooms, plastic gloves, garbage bags and face masks, poured in after the army declared it clear of home-made bombs and other dangerous material.
Many used kitchen scourers and razor knives to remove anti-government posters and graffiti. Others carted away rubbish left by the protesters.
“We love Thailand, we love Bangkok. We will try and take back our city today,” said teacher Tor as she led a group of students in the clean-up.
Teenage girls from one of the city’s most prestigious schools marched into the once-deadly no man’s land, carrying a sign “Students Lets Clean Project,” decorated with pink hearts.
“It’s very upsetting, it was a nightmare in Bangkok,” said one of the students from Triam Udom Suksa school.
“I am sad but we will bring it back to life.”
Troops were mostly withdrawn from Bangkok and remaining checkpoints handed over to the police.
The Skytrain and underground metro resumed skeleton services, with near-empty trains eerily passing above the devastated central commercial district, taken over by the red-shirt protesters for more than two months.
Workers erected a metal barrier around the ruins of the Central World, Southeast Asia’s second-largest shopping mall, set on fire at the height of the riots.
The red shirts, mainly rural and urban poor, want new elections, saying Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva lacks a popular mandate and is propped up by the military and a Bangkok elite that has disenfranchised them.
Abhisit said in a regular Sunday broadcast that he did not wish to stay for his full term, which lasts until 2012, but did not confirm whether an earlier offer to the red shirts of a November election was still on the table.
The protesters had rejected that offer.
“It is now up to me to decide whether that election is appropriate ... I don’t know what is going to happen next as some people have vowed to continue their struggle, calling for the resumption of the protest in June,” Abhisit said.
Red shirt leaders have said they will resume protests outside Bangkok next month, but the main anti-government Puea Thai party said it would bring a no-confidence motion against the government at a special session of Parliament on Monday.
The government is likely to easily defeat the motion.
Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Jeremy Laurence
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.