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Bangkok on its way to normality?

In a surprising u-turn, anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban announced on Friday evening that all the sites occupied in Bangkok by his movement will be all concentrated into Lumpini Park, in the city centre. A return to normal?

BANGKOK- On Saturday afternoon, the Rachaprasong area was busier than ever with passer-by strolling under the pylons and railtracks of the elevated Skytrain, where hundreds of anti-government protesters have gathered for over a month and turned the busy street into an organic market. It was for many of the visitors on Saturday a kind of farewell as all the stands will be dismantled and the street given back to cars and normal activities.

After six weeks of “Bangkok Shutdown” operation by protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, the auto-proclaimed General Secretary of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), the movement seems to struggle to find further support. And as it is increasingly perceived as a hassle by Bangkok inhabitants, a strategic retreat appeared necessary. Especially as violence escalated over the last ten days with bombs and attacks exploding and killing even children.

Mr. Thaugsuban announced on Friday night that all the five rallies at Pathumwan and Ratchaprasong (near Central World), Asok (near Terminal 21 Mall on Sukhumvit) and Chaeng Wattana will be merged into Lumpini Park rally stage while all blocked roads will be cleared.

These are good news for Bangkok city centre, especially for the retail and tourism industry. The occupation of government offices had for example a devastating effect on travel as locals could not get a passport in a normal time frame. Many people decided then to cancel travel plans…

Business has collapsed in the area occupied by the protest movement, with revenues down by 40% on average. Now that Bangkok is getting back a more normalized face, will the political situation normalize as well? They are a couple of signs of negotiation, despite the war rethoric of PDRC General Secretary Thaugsuban, who vowed on Friday to continue his fight to oust the current Acting Prime Minister. “We decided to stop the ‘Bangkok Shutdown’ but we’ll continue to close down government offices and businesses of the Shinawatra family as usual and our fight will be more intense. I’m determined to end this by March so we can start national reform, so please be patient,” he advocated in front of his followers, reported the Bangkok Post.

The only “negative “aspect of the new PDRC strategy concerns Lumpini Park. One of the few green oasis in the city centre of Bangkok, the park has been increasingly transformed into a garbage dump with 10,000 of protesters already staying and living there. According to Bangkok Municipal Park Authority, damage done to the park has been consequent with cars circulating, pollution of waters and drainage systems clogged. The Bangkok Post reported that even the giant lizards to be seen at the Park recently vanished…

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Luc Citrinot a French national is a freelance journalist and consultant in tourism and air transport with over 20 years experience. Based in Paris and Bangkok, he works for various travel and air transport trade publications in Europe and Asia.