BANGKOK — Georg Brandmayr walked out of his hotel Monday morning to see a bus burning and dozens of red-shirted protesters milling about. Later, he returned to find about 50 armed soldiers on the street.
“It’s our first time here, so coming into this mess, it’s shocking,” said the 29-year-old Austrian who arrived Sunday, just as the government imposed a state of emergency in Bangkok amid rising political tension.
Brandmayr and his girlfriend moved to a hotel farther from the chaos, but they’re not fleeing the country as some tourists are — dealing a further blow to Thailand’s economy, already reeling from the global slowdown.
Confrontations between anti-government protesters and security forces, combined with November’s airport shutdown, will likely slash the country’s tourism revenue by a third this year, or 200 billion baht (US$5.6 billion), said Kongkrit Hiranyakit, chairman of the Tourism Council of Thailand.
That could lead to 200,000 lost jobs in the vital tourism industry, he said.
“This is very serious,” Kongkrit said. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Soldiers at various points around the city advanced on protesters loyal to ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, firing weapons into the air and throwing tear gas to clear demonstrators from blocking roads. The red-clad demonstrators burned public buses and set tires on fire. More than 70 people have been injured.
Military chiefs promised to restore peace and order and were narrowing the area of unrest.
Australia, China, France, Britain, South Korea, and the U.S. warned citizens in Thailand to stay indoors or cautioned against traveling to the country.
The upheaval further damages Thailand’s reputation and economy, coming just five months after anti-Thaksin protesters — clad in yellow — occupied Bangkok’s two main airports for about a week, stranding about 300,000 tourists and blocking shipments.