BANGKOK (Reuters) - Anti-government “red shirt” protesters fought with troops for a sixth day in Bangkok on Tuesday, turning parts of Thailand’s capital into a war zone and disrupting the daily life of its 15 million residents.
Mass transit trains have stopped running and, with no real sign the disruption will end soon, Bangkokians are hoarding food. Schools and businesses have closed. Hotels are asking guests to leave and gradually closing their facilities.
Sleek office towers, embassies, international schools, luxury hotels, expensive apartments and half a dozen upmarket department stores pack the 3 sq-km (1.2 sq-mile) stretch of central Bangkok occupied by the red shirts since April 3.
Following are details showing how life in Bangkok is being affected.
Many offices in the commercial and business districts have closed or moved to back-up facilities since the protests began two months ago.
“All our shops in the area are being closed,” said Bunyat Kamnoonwat, assistant vice president of CP All, an operator of 7-Eleven stores in Thailand. “We have no choice. It’s just too risky to be selling anything in there right now and the suppliers won’t come anywhere near it.”
Thanachart Bank said on Tuesday it had set up back-up customer services after 18 branches were shut due to the protests. Siam City Bank, the seventh-largest lender, has shut 15 branches.
Some 4,000 companies employing 60,000 workers have been forced to close their doors or relocate; staff at businesses that are carrying on put up with strict security checks and cumbersome commutes as public transport is disrupted or halted.
Multinational companies including PricewaterhouseCoopers , Nestle SA and Philip Morris International have moved office temporarily.
Singapore retailer FJ Benjamin said it might shut one or two of the three shops — two Celine and one La Senza — it has in Bangkok.
The whole of this week has been declared a public holiday for Bangkok, meaning many government offices and other businesses will be shut.
“I’ve just moved back to my parents’ house,” said Jakawan Subchart-anan, who lives near Victory Monument north of the Rachaprasong encampment. “I don’t want to risk living in my apartment.”
As troops moved this week to complete a security cordon around the protest encampment that occupies an area the size of New York’s Central Park, residents of the area were seen dragging suitcases and children down streets to safer places.
“My food here is running low,” said Boonyarat Lasana, a security guard stuck in one of the office buildings on Rama 4 Road, scene of fierce battles between troops and protesters.
“It’s okay for now, but if this protest keeps dragging on, I don’t know how I am going to get food,” Boonyarat, 43, said.
A resident nearby shared the pain.
“We don’t know how much longer this nightmare is going to last and how far it will spread,” said Panna Srisuwan, in a long line of people waiting at a supermarket check-out counter in the business district.
“I went to the store this morning and there’s not even bottled water. I’m stocking up for the week,” she said.
Meanwhile, the government’s strategy of starving protesters out of their camp is showing signs of working. Supplies of food, water and fuel were running thin because security forces were blocking red shirt delivery trucks.
Embassies near the encampment have closed, and their countries have issued ever more dire warnings about travel to the “Land of Smiles”.
The Unites States embassy offered to evacuate families of U.S. government staff based in Bangkok on a voluntary basis, and warned its citizens against any travel to Bangkok. [nSGE64E033]
Britain, Australia and Canada along with other countries expressed concern about escalating clashes in Bangkok.
Guests in hotels have been told to be careful about walking down certain streets and to avoid going out at night.
“It’s safer for them to stay inside,” said a manager at the Conrad Hotel Bangkok, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“At least if they’re in here, they can order food and use the pool. It’s just more enjoyable than wandering around the city at a time like this,” he said.
Guests at the luxury Dusit Thani Hotel, a Bangkok landmark on the edge of the protest site, were evacuated on Monday after a rocket tore through a 14th floor window and set a room on fire.
More than 400 schools in Bangkok are closed, having decided not to reopen for the new term on Monday.
Many women and children in the Rachaprasong protest camp have moved to a Buddhist temple in the area.
“My only worry is my kids,” said Jiem Sookjai, a 40-year-old farmer from the northeast, sitting with her two children in the temple. “I’m afraid that we might not be safe but we can’t go back now.”
Editing by Alan Raybould