Massive cleanup launched in Bangkok, curfew extended

Massive cleanup launched in Bangkok, curfew extended

Volunteers clean up posters indowntown Bangkok on Sunday. AFPBangkok authorities on Sunday launched a massive cleanup of the central district, left smoldering and filthy after the departing rampage of protesters who occupied it for five weeks.

The Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (BMA) mobilised about 3,000 city workers and volunteers to sweep clean streets most affected. Soldiers dispersed the protesters on Wednesday.

The crackdown incensed hardcore protesters, who went on a looting and arson rampage in the heart of the city, torching 36 buildings. Some of the fires were still smoldering on Saturday.

Although a semblance of normalcy has returned to the capital, the government has kept the city under emergency law and imposed a night curfew since Wednesday.

The curfew was shortened from 9 pm to 5 am to 11 pm to 5 am starting on Sunday. It will be reviewed daily, officials said.

Bangkok's mass transit services resumed Sunday, although on shortened hours.

Education Minister Chinnaworn Boonyakiat said most public schools would reopen for the new semester Monday, after a week's delay.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva pledged to work for national reconciliation.

"We have restored order in the capital of Bangkok and in the provinces of Thailand," Abhisit said. "There are huge challenges ahead of us, particularly the challenge of overcoming the divisions that have occurred in the country."

But reconciliation appeared elusive amid widespread anger among Abhisit's political enemies at the military crackdown.

There are fears that the anti-government movement, backed politically and financially by fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, could resort to urban terrorism.

Chaturon Chaisaeng, a key political ally of Thaksin, was quoted by the Bangkok Post website Saturday as saying that protesters might go underground to try to overthrow Abhisit's government.

The United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship started demonstrating in Bangkok March 12.

Protest-related violence claimed 85 dead, including 74 civilians and 11 security officials, and left 1,402 injured over the past two months, according to government figures.

Its stated aim was to bring about early elections, which they were confident of winning because of Thaksin's strong support in the populous northern and north-eastern provinces.

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