By  on April 13, 2010

At least four Bangkok shopping malls are trying to reopen for partial business days after antigovernment demonstrators forced the closure of the city’s main retail district for more than a week.

Yet the openings have not been smooth, as the demonstrators, who call themselves the Red Shirts, forced the early closure of one mall on Saturday and shoppers were locked inside for several hours before the roads cleared enough for them to leave.

“Shoppers are afraid to come downtown,” said a spokesman for Siam Paragon Development Corp.

Siam Paragon, Siam Discovery, Siam Center and Central Chidlom, a block away from the apparent headquarters for the protestors, tried to open Friday but closed at 6 p.m. instead of the usual 9 or 10 p.m.

On Saturday, at least one mall, Siam Paragon, Bangkok’s luxury shopping center, was forced to close at 3 p.m. when the demonstrators again moved to block the main highway leading to the center. Shoppers were instructed to leave through a back door, but some were locked in the center for several hours before they could be let out, the spokesman said.

All the malls were closed on Sunday because the city’s Sky Train service was shut down by the government to prevent protestors from damaging the stations. Siam Paragon had plans to reopen on Monday for abbreviated hours.

Amarin Center and Gaysorn, another luxury shopping mall on the retail strip that borders the Ratchaprasong intersection, have remained closed since April 3, said a spokeswoman for the Ratchaprasong Square Trade Association.

“I don’t know when they will reopen,” she said.

Central Chidlom and Siam Paragon have canceled promotions for Songkran, Thailand’s new year that is anticipated as a major shopping event for Bangkok retailers.

The demonstrations turned violent over the weekend as 21 people were killed and close to 900 were injured. Police from around Thailand have been called to Bangkok to help quell the demonstrations, but the Red Guard, a segment of the Red Shirts that have deputized themselves to police the opposition, have established the Ratchaprasong intersection as their center of operations, severely limiting retailing. The government appears to be hoping the demonstrators will clear Bangkok streets and return to their homes for Songkran celebrations this week.

“The government isn’t doing anything to move them from the retail district,” said a spokeswoman for the retail district. “It’s hurting our economy and tourism.”

The Thai composite stock index closed Monday down 3.64 percent. Downtown hotels near the retail district have reported their occupancy has dropped to 20 percent since the antigovernment siege began. Elsewhere in Thailand, occupancy rates are around 80 percent.

On Monday, Thailand’s election commission recommended that the party of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva be dissolved, a move that strengthens the opposition.

“I’m afraid for the entire Thai economy,” said the Siam Paragon spokesman. “What will happen to us after this situation clears?”

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