By  on April 8, 2010

Major malls in downtown Bangkok are losing millions of dollars daily after being forced to close since Saturday by thousands of antigovernment protesters who have paralyzed the district.

The losses will mount if the demonstrators keep retailers shut during the 10-day Thai New Year celebration, Songkran, which begins Friday.

“We make a lot of money during Songkran. That’s huge for us,” said a spokesman for Siam Paragon Development Corp., which operates Bangkok’s luxury Siam Paragon mall.

Department stores and malls including CentralWorld, Zen, Big C Rajdamri Superstore, Gaysorn Plaza, Erawan Bangkok, Amarin Plaza, Siam Center and Siam Discovery and Siam Paragon are all closed. They are located near the Ratchaprasong intersection in the shopping district.

Malls in other areas of Bangkok, including Central Chidlom, Central Silom Complex, all branches of Central Department Stores, The Emporium, MBK Shopping Center, all branches of Robinson Department Store and The Mall Department store, have stayed open. Retail executives said those malls and others in the suburbs are crowded with Bangkok residents, who view their malls as recreational outlets, especially in April when temperatures can soar into the triple digits.

The Bangkok International Fashion Fair under way at a convention center several miles from Bangkok’s city center has not been interrupted by the demonstrators.

The protesters, known as the Red Shirts and largely made up of Thailand’s rural poor, want the ouster of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, the dissolution of Parliament and new elections. They broke into the Parliament building Wednesday, forcing several members to flee in a helicopter. Vejjajiva declared a state of emergency Wednesday night.

The fast-moving developments scrapped plans to reopen Siam Paragon for abbreviated hours.

The Red Shirts are seeking the return of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled in a 2006 coup and who appears almost nightly in video telephone calls to the protesters.

The Ratchaprasong Square Trade Association and the Thai Shopping Center Association said thousands of workers have been unable to get to their jobs in the downtown district. Association members met all day Wednesday but did not reach a decision about when they would try to reopen, a spokeswoman said.

Thailand’s recovery from the economic downturn could be delayed by the protests. Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Trairong Suwannakhiri has said the country may not reach its targeted gross domestic product growth rate of 4.5 percent.

“Things can get worse if the demonstrations do not end because the political tension will rise, increasing the probability of more aggression and confrontation,” said Supavud Saicheua, director of research at Phatra Securities in Bangkok, who estimated tourism cancellations at 20 percent.

The state of emergency bans gatherings of more than five people. Suspects may be detained for as long as 30 days without counsel and curfews can be imposed. In addition, news reports deemed threatening to public order are prohibited.

After three weeks of demonstrations, some Bangkok citizens have lost patience with the Red Shirts and the government’s failure to quell the disruptions. Homemade signs urging the demonstrators to go home have been hung from downtown apartment balconies.

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