Thai Protest Leaders Surrender to Police

Analysts Fear Further Damage to Nation's Troubled Economy

Anti-government protesters calling for the return of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra clashed with Thai security forces in Bangkok, prompting the government to launch a violent crackdown.
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, April 15, 2009; Page A08

BANGKOK, April 14 -- Four days of violent anti-government protests in Thailand came to an end Tuesday when the last demonstrators gave up and their leaders surrendered to security forces. But business analysts said the violence and political uncertainty were likely to have a lasting effect on an already troubled economy.

Heavily armed soldiers had ringed the protesters for almost 24 hours, and the demonstration leaders said they wanted to avoid bloodshed.

"I want to save the people," Jatuporn Phromphan, one of the leaders, said as he and a grim-faced band of supporters prepared to surrender. "But I will continue to fight for democracy."

Hundreds of protesters, many in tears, streamed out of the rally site past lines of soldiers dressed for combat, leaving behind mountains of garbage and a badly shaken country.

The protesters had been calling for the resignation of the four-month-old administration of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, which they accuse of gaining power through a backroom deal that bypassed the democratic process.

At least two people died during the protests, and emergency medical services said at least 100 were injured. Demonstrators maintain that the authorities have hushed up other deaths, and they showed reporters photographs they said were of missing protesters.

On Tuesday, a Thai court issued arrest warrants for exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra and 12 of his supporters for allegedly organizing the anti-government protests in contravention of a state of emergency. Thai officials also sought to limit the immediate economic impact of the protests.

"We want to put things back to normalcy as soon as we can," said Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij. "Even though the government has declared the rest of the week a state holiday, the stock exchange and the banks will open so we'll make sure investors have liquidity."

Unlike the demonstrations that closed Thailand's airports in December, the recent protests have not directly targeted the tourist industry, and many foreign investors appear to be accustomed to the country's political turmoil. Despite a military coup in 2006, foreign direct investment grew by 12 percent that year and 10 percent the next. It was not until the global slowdown in 2008 that foreign investment began to drop, falling 17 percent.

Still, a leading economic analyst, Tai Hui of Standard Chartered Bank in Singapore, said he thinks the protests will have long-term effects. "The latest political event is likely to divert the Abhisit administration's attention away from supporting the economy to restore political stability," he wrote in a recent report.

Thailand already is struggling to cope with the fallout from the global financial crisis, with the government predicting economic contraction of 3 percent this year. Korn, the finance minister, said the government is considering expanding its stimulus package to boost confidence domestically and internationally.

"It is going to be important for the investing world to see us as capable of action in order to restore confidence rather than to see us do nothing, which I think would be to further erode confidence," he said.

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