Thai protests fuel travel advisories

22 Feb 2010

Several countries have issued advisories on visits by its citizens to Thailand this week over expected mass protests by anti-government “Redshirts”, despite local travel industry pleas that the warnings dramatically exaggerate the dangers.

On Friday, February 26, Thailand’s Supreme Court will deliver its verdict on whether US$2.3 billion in frozen assets held by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his family should be returned or confiscated by the state. Thaksin’s supporters, organised under the umbrella body of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), are mobilising major demonstrations in Bangkok and other centres in the run-up to the decision.

A statement from British Ambassador to Thailand, Quinton Quayle said: “The political situation in Thailand is tense and uncertain. British citizens should exercise great caution throughout Thailand and avoid demonstrations or large gatherings of people that might turn violent. It is likely that there will be mass protests by anti-government demonstrators in and around Bangkok. A court decision due on 26 February 2010 is a potential flashpoint. If, as is quite possible, anti-government protests turn violent, British citizens should stay indoors and monitor the media.”

The US State Department has advised its citizens to avoid any large public gatherings. “All demonstrations are unpredictable, and any demonstration can turn violent without warning,” it said. Australia has urged its citizens “to exercise a high degree of caution because of the high threat of terrorist attack and because of political instability in Thailand”.

However, leading travel and hospitality figures in the kingdom have countered these warnings, claiming that outside media is exaggerating the extent of tension and likely disruption as well as overestimating the potential for protest to turn violent.

Chanin Donavanik, CEO of Thai hotel chain Dusit International, said: “We are confident in the government’s ability to ensure that the current political uncertainty will be managed in a safe and positive manner. However, we are very disappointed in the current media reports and negative speculation on how this is affecting the international perception of Thailand. Our daily life continues as normal and we look forward to welcoming our many guests over the coming months.”

In December 2007, protests by anti-Thaksin forces, the Yellowshirts, closed Thailand’s major airports, stranding thousands of travellers and costing the country billions in lost tourism revenue. These protests were followed by a military coup and the ousting of the pro-Thaksin government.

Redshirt protests have avoided targeting the country’s travel infrastructure, but forced the cancellation of an ASEAN summit in Pattaya in April 2009. Neither side has any history of targeting foreign travellers and protests are generally limited to specific areas of the Thai capital.

Kenny Coyle

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