BANGKOK: Thailand’s “Red Shirt” protesters today remained defiant in the face of mounting pressure from the battered tourism industry to end mass demonstrations seeking to topple the government.
The Red Shirts have vowed to stage their biggest rally on Saturday since their latest round of protests began with more than 100,000 supporters on March 14, but the army has predicted a low turnout as rural demonstrators go home.
Tourist industry workers plan their own peaceful rallies tomorrow to which they expect to draw about 1,000 people seeking an end to the action by supporters of fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra seeking snap polls.
The demonstrations planned for Bangkok and other top tourist destinations including Pattaya, Chiang Mai and Phuket reflect deepening concern about the impact of political turmoil on the vital tourism sector.
“We don’t want to create mob against mob, but we want the political sector to hear our voice,” said Charoen Wangananont, president of Thai Travel Agent Association.
The tourism industry has suffered billions of dollars of financial losses in the past few years because of political unrest and foreign visitor arrivals are down 20-30 percent from last year, according to sector officials.
“More than two million Thais work in the tourism industry including hotels, spas, car rental, restaurants,” Charoen told AFP.
Red Shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan reiterated that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s offer to call elections by the end of the year, one year ahead of schedule, would not be enough to bring the Red Shirts back to the negotiating table.