Pleas led to rally site closures

Protesters pack their belongings at the Ratchaprasong protest site.

A major reason for the anti-government movement's surprise announcement to merge three downtown protest sites into one at Lumpini Park is believed to be the severe impact felt by smaller businesses at key intersections being occupied by protesters.

Protesters have been camped at the intersections for almost two months as part of their "Bangkok shutdown" rally.

A highly-placed source within the anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee said many other factors were also behind the relocation.

PDRC secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban abruptly announced the decision to vacate the intersections on Friday night.

"There have been complaints to the PDRC every day about the [business] impact from the setting up of PDRC stages at the Pathumwan, Ratchaprasong, Asoke and Silom areas," said the source, who asked not to be named.

"The big businesses who are affected can endure it but the small businesses cannot handle it because rents have not been reduced. They can't sell goods.

"The PDRC thought of removing the stages at Ratchaprasong and Asoke, but could not reach a conclusion [prior to Suthep's announcement].

"The hardship faced by private businesses is the main reason for removing the rally stages. There's also the security issue. Having many rally stages makes it difficult to ensure safety. It would be easier to ensure security if we merged the rally sites into one at Lumpini Park. Another reason is there are fewer people. Also, it's a matter of cost."

The source insisted, however, that the PDRC will continue to pressure the government by shutting down government offices and pressing businesses owned by the Shinawatra clan while reducing the impact on the business sector in general.

"In the past, the [caretaker Yingluck Shinawatra] government suffered, but the shutdown has severely caused hardship to the private sector, so we need to adjust the strategy," the source said.

The PRDC would continue to push for negotiations with the government although the dispute was very complex as it involved many issues, including charges against Yingluck and Shinawatra businesses, the source added.

PDRC co-leader Withaya Kaewparadai, who is in charge of the protest site at Silom, inspected the area and nearby Lumpini Park yesterday.

He said the transfer of protest camps to Lumpini Park would start today. Additional accommodation for up to 10,000 protesters would be made available at the park, Withaya said, adding the campsite would be divided into different zones and registration would be required in order to ensure security.

Roads around the park, including Rama IV, Ratchaprasong and Sala Daeng, would be opened to traffic in order to alleviate the impact on Bangkokians but the overpass for cars at Sala Daeng would be closed at night to ensure security.

The source said Army officers would set up checkpoints in outer areas of the park to beef up security.

The government's Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order thanked the PDRC for closing down the protest sites. The CMPO plans to set up a working group to help protest-affected smaller businesses recover.

Tarit Pengdith, a key member of the CMPO, said measures would include low-interest loans, assistance in negotiating rental fees with landlords, deferment of loan payments from government banks. He urged red-shirt protesters camping at the National Anti-Corruption Commission not to block roads.

Phra Buddha Issara, a Buddhist monk and anti-government protest leader, said he respected Suthep's decision but his group would continue to camp on Chaeng Wattana Road.

Pheu Thai Party deputy spokesman Anusorn Iamsaard said there were four reasons behind Suthep's decision: the number of protesters had dwindled, with less than 100 protesters sleeping at some sites and the PDRC's big supporters were cutting funding.

Anusorn also said protesters were bored and victory seemed remote while pressure from the international community was being felt.