Thailand turmoil shuts down scores of businesses

As Thailand's political turmoil enters its seventh week, the economic toll is spreading. Ordinary workers, parents and shoppers often reach their destinations to find signs that say: "Sorry, closed due to political unrest."

The "Red Shirt" protesters have occupied various parts of Bangkok since March 12 to demand the government's resignation. Twenty-six people have died in the political violence.

The protests are concentrated now in about a square mile of the Thai capital. In early April, protesters pitched tents along the city's swankiest shopping street - the equivalent of Paris' Champs-Elysees or New York's Fifth Avenue.

Thousands of supporters have slept on sidewalks ever since. Four luxury hotels and a half-dozen towering shopping malls in the area have closed, losing millions of dollars a day.

The latest casualty is nearby Silom Road, the city's financial district, which transforms after-hours into a nighttime bazaar with a popular bar scene, notably the lewd kind for which Bangkok is infamous.

Yesterday, Silom was filled with riot police, and many of its banks, restaurants, offices and a major shopping complex were shut after a night of bloody chaos that resulted in one death and more than 80 people wounded.

Clashes on April 10 left 25 dead and more than 800 hurt, damaging Thailand's image as a tourist paradise."I still can't believe it," said Somchay Chaitosa, a bank employee whose bank was one of many in the Silom area that closed Friday. "This is like in the movies that we watch of civil wars and shootings in Africa, but it happened right here in the heart of Bangkok."

Five grenade explosions on Thursday blasted holes through the roof of an elevated Skytrain station and shattered cafe windows near the landmark Dusit Thani hotel. Authorities immediately closed the elevated rail line that runs down Silom.

 The trains serve thousands of daily commuters, but the station has also been an overhead bunker for soldiers to monitor protesters.

The soldiers were sent there Monday to keep the protesters from spilling onto Silom. Adding to the volatile mix are rival demonstrators hurling insults and bottles at the Red Shirts, who have barricaded themselves behind a wall of tires and homemade bamboo spears.

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