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Chaos looms

Bangkok residents brace for more traffic, economic and political turmoil; Red shirts threaten to make another 'move' today, refuse to disclose destination

Bangkokians are bracing for traffic, economic and political turmoil today as the stand-off between the government and the red shirts, who continue to occupy the Rajprasong Intersection, reaches arguably its most precarious stage yet.

With the government reluctant to use force to clear the economic and tourist hub of protesters over the weekend, the impact of the area's closure on traffic will be felt the most today, and business groups are expected to pile on the political heat as losses keep accumulating.

Several malls in the area remained shut yesterday, and their owners might be forced to keep the gates closed today, depending on what move the red-shirt leaders make.

The plight of business operators in the area will certainly be one of the key topics when Thailand's leading business umbrella organisations meet today to discuss the worsening political situation and its effects on the economy.

Silom off-limits

The government, giving additional orders through the Internal Security Act, declared routes leading to Silom off-limits and subsequently managed to keep tens of thousands of protesters at Rajprasong instead of seeing them stage a potentially explosive march into the heart of the financial district. The orders also cover roads leading to the stock market.

The red shirts, buoyed by ballooning numbers in the evening, which went up to tens of thousands, threatened to make another "move" today but refused to disclose their destinations.

A legal fight will run parallel to the political showdown. The government will seek civil and criminal court orders respectively for the protesters to leave Rajprasong and for the arrest of their leaders. The red shirts will resort to the delaying or legal-resistance tactics employed by their yellow-shirt opponents.

'Not constitutional'

 The government insists that since the protest has caused great trouble to other citizens, it is no longer constitutional. The red shirts counter that it is within their constitutional rights to go "peacefully" anywhere.

Police have advised Bangkokians to avoid Rajprasong today or use the BTS if necessary. But Pol Maj-General Panu Kerdlappol, deputy Bangkok police chief, admitted the extent of the traffic chaos would depend much on what move the red shirts make today.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's dilemma will become more pressing today as frustration among many Bangkokians is set to intensify on the first business

day to be affected by the red campaign.

He vowed yesterday to move ahead step by step legally in dealing with the red shirts, who insist if the government wants to disperse the rally, troops will have to come and haul them away one by one.

Despite government legal orders blocking key routes to other key business districts, the red shirts suggested they would defy them today, and Silom, the stock market and Yaowarat remained vulnerable. Such defiance would definitely throw the ball into Abhisit's court, throwing his "step by step" plan into disarray.

The red shirts had the advantage of numbers.

The massive crowds, government security officials admitted, made it impossible to attempt to disperse them by force.

The size of the red rally at Rajprasong impressed even the movement's detractor. Maj-General Khattiya Sawasdipol said he was confident that a crowd this large could move anywhere regardless of any off-limit orders.

Good news from Hua Hin

 A little piece of good news came from Hua Hin, where visiting Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, attending an international meeting on the mekong river, showed a considerably softened stand towards the Abhisit government.

He shook hands with the Thai leader, invited Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban to Cambodia and, last but not least, stated that Thaksin Shinawatra will never be allowed to use his country to attack the Bangkok administration.

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