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 Bangkok malls reopen after protests

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PostSubject: Bangkok malls reopen after protests   Thu May 27, 2010 2:28 pm

Retail-starved Thais trickled back into Bangkok's glitziest shopping district Tuesday as malls shuttered for weeks by anti-government protests reopened for business, minus one landmark torched in last week's violent end to the demonstrations.

Employees outnumbered customers in many shops at the upscale Siam Paragon shopping complex — though the second-floor Porsche dealership had already rung up its first sale an hour after opening.

“We sold some accessories — a cap and a calendar — to some longtime customers,” said Sarinya Eakkarakrungrueang, 31, assistant manager of Performance Auto Gallery, which has the latest BMW, Bentley and Jaguar models parked near the top of the mall's central escalator.

“They were very happy, because there was nowhere good for them to shop for so long,” she said.

Some of the Thai capital's highest-end shopping centers were closed for eight weeks by the latest dramatic escalation in the country's prolonged political crisis. The city's commercial heart was overrun by so-called Red Shirt protesters who set up camps and barricaded roads into the upscale Rajprasong district. At least 88 people, most of them demonstrators, died in clashes, including 16 killed in last week's military crackdown and the riots that followed.

The protests dealt a severe blow to Thailand's economy. Retailers in the occupied shopping district were losing 174 million baht (US$5.5 million) per day and some 20,000 employees were sent home, according to the Rajprasong Square Trade Association.

The country's crucial tourism industry also suffered, with five-star hotels including the Four Seasons, the Inter Continental and the Hyatt closed since April. The government's economic planning agency said tourist arrivals this year would fall 8 percent from 2009 to about 13 million. Revenue from tourism would fall short of expectations by about 113 billion baht (US$3.5 billion).

As a result, economists say the Thai economy will contract or at best stagnate in the second quarter compared with the first quarter.

For moneyed Thais, Tuesday's reopening of Siam Paragon, the nearby Siam Discovery and other central shopping areas and restaurants, marked another step back towards normalcy, although they didn't have to look far to see the upheaval's lasting damage.
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