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NEWS UPDATES 29 April 2010

Thailand: Continuing violence worsens economy

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A day after a soldier died in the latest clash in a seven-week campaign to force early elections, concerns mounted over Southeast Asia's second largest economy, reported Reuters.

The central bank is due to release growth forecasts later on Thursday. Another three months of protests could shave 0.64 of a percentage point off a 2010 economic growth forecast of 4.5 percent, according to government forecasters.

Tourism, a major industry that supports 6 percent of the economy and employs 15 percent of the workforce, is crumbling. Arrivals at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport have fallen by a third since violence broke out.

Thailand's stock market, an emerging market darling over February and March, has lost more than 3 percent in April against a 1.8 percent rise in Asian markets outside Japan.

On Wednesday violence flared when a group of some 2,000 protesters moved out of the central shopping area they have occupied since April 3, heading to meet supporters in a northern suburb. Soldiers barred the way and fighting broke out on a crowded highway.

Soldiers fired live rounds into the charging protesters in the chaotic clash on a congested highway 40 km north of central Bangkok, Reuters photographers and witnesses said. Nineteen people were injured.

In all, 27 people have died and nearly 1,000 have been wounded in the latest crisis, which pits protesters seeking elections against the embattled, military-backed government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

"The red shirts were testing the will of the security forces and now we saw that the government is getting serious about this," said Somjai Phagaphasvivat, a professor at Thammasat University. "But it's hard to pronounce victory for either side."

Hopes for a negotiated end to the crisis were dashed last weekend when the British-born, Oxford-educated Abhisit rejected a proposal by the protesters for an election in three months, saying he would not negotiate in the face of threats.

The red shirts oppose what they say is the unelected royalist elite that controls Thailand and broadly back former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup in 2006 but before that built up a devoted following among the poor through rural development and welfare policies.

The former telecoms tycoon was convicted in absentia on corruption-related charges and lives abroad to avoid jail.


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