Feb 20 2014
The dust has settled in Bangkok after a violent clash between police and anti-government protesters left five dead and over 60 injured on Tuesday (February 18). It was the first serious attempt to disperse protesters who have for months occupied government offices and key intersections as part of their “Bangkok Shutdown” campaign. What does this mean for travellers?
Though February 18 was a tumultuous day, it appears that fallout from the clash will make Bangkok safer in the immediate future. The Thai Civil Court has ruled that the government “cannot use force to disperse the protest”, which effectively bars police from going near the protesters. Even without this ruling, it’s unlikely that the government would risk further violence that could provoke the courts or military to step in and force it from power.
Protesters have remained in the vicinity of Government House and Phan Fah canal bridge, where the clash took place. The area is located just east of Democracy Monument and within sight of Wat Saket, no more than a 15-minute-walk east of Khao San Road or the Grand Palace on Ratchadamnoen Avenue. Though another crackdown is highly unlikely, we recommend avoiding Ratchadamnoen east of the monument, just to be safe.
Protesters also remain encamped at the intersections of Pathumwan, Ratchaprasong, Asok and Sala Daeng, and at Government Complex off Chaeng Watthana Road in far northern Bangkok. Though rumours still circulate that the government offices will reopen soon, travellers should note that immigration continues to function out of two temporary offices on the city’s outskirts.
The main protest sites (listed above) in central Bangkok have remained almost entirely peaceful since the so called Bangkok Shutdown began in mid-January. Protest numbers have dwindled, leaving the areas almost completely empty during the day, with a small but dedicated contingent arriving for early evening speeches. Police have not attempted to disperse protesters in these areas.
Major shopping malls near protest sites, including MBK, Siam Paragon and Terminal 21, are back to their normal hours of operation and can be accessed directly from BTS stations. Short stretches of Silom, Sukhumvit and Rama I roads remain closed to traffic. One bright spot has been the festive pedestrian markets that have sprung to life along these normally congested roads.
All inter-city and long distance public transport operates as normal. Protesters continue to hold occasional marches to various offices and ministries in Bangkok, which can make it difficult to catch a taxi at times. But it’s still business as usual in the vast majority of the city.
On the other hand, it’s definitely not business as usual in the Thai government. The country’s Anti Corruption Commission recently announced that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra may be charged with abuse of power due to a disastrous rice-pledging scheme that has left over a million Thai farmers desperate for overdue government payments amounting to a staggering 130 billion baht. The farmers’ own anti-government protests have gradually picked up steam, with some joining the larger movement in Bangkok.
If Yingluck is charged (and she probably will be), her court-ordered impeachment could transpire as soon as next month. This could open the door to reform, reconciliation and eventual new elections, but in a repeat of 2010, it could also trigger counter-protests by Yingluck’s “red shirt” supporters.
For now, with the police barred from confronting the protesters, Bangkok appears to have slipped back into the same tense balance that it was in before the latest clash. Our advice remains the same: stay abreast of the latest developments, choose wisely where to stay, and have fun in Bangkok.
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