Thailand clamps night curfew in 23 provinces; Indians safe

Thailand on Wednesday clamped night time curfew in Bangkok and 23 other provinces after clashes.

Last Updated: May 20, 2010, 00:10 AM IST

Bangkok: Thailand on Wednesday clamped night
time curfew in capital Bangkok and 23 other provinces as the
Army stormed a barricaded protest camp of the Red Shirts, with
the protesters setting fire to around 20 buildings, a TV
station and the stock exchange here.

Five people were killed today, including an Italian
journalist in the army crackdown, taking the toll to 60 in the
recent anti-government protest. Three other foreign
journalists and scores of Thais were wounded in the violence.

All Indian nationals in the country are reportedly
safe. Bangkok is a favourite destination among Indian tourists
and a small group from India continued to enjoy the city`s
attractions though with caution, an Indian national who did
not wish to be named said.
Rioters set fires at the Thai stock exchange, several
banks, the headquarters of the Metropolitan Electricity
Authority, the high-end Central World shopping mall and a
cinema complex that collapsed.

The Thai government declared a curfew in Bangkok from
8 pm until 6 am. An announcement signed by Prime Minister
Abhisit Vejjajiva and broadcast on TV banned anyone from
leaving home during those times without permission from
authorities. The unrest during the past few weeks has been
around central Bangkok forcing some big hotels to shut down.

Bangkok has a vast expatriate Indian population.

Susha Stephen Varugis, a former corporate lawyer and
daughter of late congress leader C M Stephen, who has been
living in bangkok for several years said the situation in
Bangkok was very unsettling.

Another expatriate Anna Khendry, who is active in
the Bangkok community Theatre, said it was scary to see
Bangkok in the present state as it was very uncertain.

Many school children have stayed back in school to
enable them to take their ongoing exams. Most of the embassies
have closed operations the past few days as the protesters
turned violent battling with government soldiers from their
encampment base.
Thai security forces began their operation to clear
up the protesters early this morning with tanks and foot
soldiers moving in smashing through bamboo barricades set up
the the Red Shirt protesters who want the government to step
down and arresting key protest leaders.

The government has blamed former premier and the
hero of the protesters, Thaksin Shinawatra, who is currently
on a self imposed exile, for the current situation.

Checkpoints have been set up across Bangkok.

Analysts say the government has a tough time ahead to
pacify the ordinary Thais. Trade in the stock exchange is to
be suspended for the rest of the week.

The anti-government protest has impact tourism and
the Ministry of Finance says that the damage caused by the
protests could be about half a percentage point of the GDP.

Army spokesman said on TV that the troops were in
complete control of the protest camp, heralding an end to a
six-week standoff that has claimed at least 60 lives and
injured thousands of others.

Gun shots and explosions continued to echo as
protest leaders were escorted from the camp`s main stage to
the police station.

The Red Shirt demonstrators, who want Prime Minister
Abhisit Vejjajiva`s government to step down, drew thousands of
mainly rural supporters to the encampment.

"Had the monsoons come, most of these demonstrators
would have rushed back to their villages," Ramesh, an Indian
national who has lived in the Thai capital for over two
decades said.

Many don`t know why they were told to come and take
part in th protest but subsequently became a vociferous part
of it.

"We will continue to fight for democracy; this is
not our day," Nattawut Saikuar, one of several Red Shirt
leaders, said at the police station.

Red shirt supporters set fire to a city hall in Udon
Thani Province in northeast Thailand. The government remains
committed to a new election and measures to bring about
reconciliation, Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij said in an
interview with a foreign TV network.

Meanwhile, Thaksin, said on Twitter that he
appreciated the move of the Red Shirts to surrender thereby
saving lives.

Thaksin, a 60-year-old self made millionaire, was
highly popular among the rural poor through his various
schemes especially cheap health care and loans.

Many feel the foreign educated suave premier Abhisit,
45, could make a "good diplomat" but not a good leader who
could understand the needs of the grassroots.

Thaksin, who was ousted by the Thai army in 2006,
fled the country in 2008 before a court sentenced him to two
years in prison on corruption charges.

Since 1946, when King Bhumibol Adulyadej took the
Thai throne as an 18-year-old, Thailand has seen nine coups
and more than 20 prime ministers.

The highly revered Thai king has not spoken publicly
about the current demonstrations.