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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bangkok's troubles resonate here

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer

Members of Hawai'i's Thai community have watched with concern as the Thai government moved to crack down on Red Shirt protesters in Bangkok.

With Red Shirt leaders under arrest, the Thai government vowed to bring stability to the area that has been under siege since March.

But even as the government appeared to be regaining control, people here say they are concerned for the economy and that the violence may flare up again.

"I think the situation is very volatile," said Ehito Kimura, an assistant professor at the University of Hawai'i. "No one knows what's going to happen and I think it's that uncertainty that makes people so nervous and so concerned."

Kimura, who is in the UH political science department, said he has friends and colleagues in Bangkok who are OK but say they were saddened at how the violent protest unfolded.

He said that while many in Thailand had thought the country had graduated from this type of political action and had consolidated its democracy, this protest foreshadows an uncertain future.

"What I think this shows is new actors are coming onto the scene and they're not going to stand down the way they had in the past," Kimura said.

For Kāne'ohe businesswoman Mamoy Toy, the political unrest raises concerns about the Thai economy. Toy said her family is outside the protest area, away from the fray.

"My main concern is for business, the economy," said Toy, owner of Chao Phya Thai restaurant in Windward City Shopping Center. "If there's no business and no tourists then how are the people going to survive?"

Toy said one of her customers said he wouldn't visit there because of all of the problems and she is upset that the media is repeating that message.

"Thailand has a lot of opportunity for tourists to enjoy the culture," she said, adding that without tourism businesses would suffer and jobs will be lost.

The protesters had blockaded an exclusive downtown shopping area and destroyed buildings as soldiers charged the area.

Sakonkiat Chiamchit, a Brigham Young University-Hawai'i student, said many people in Bangkok resent the protestors.

"People are staying away from the area," Chiamchit said. "I have a friend who lives in the red zone and she had to move out of the area for the whole time."

Chiamchit said he can understand both sides of the issue and thinks people really want the same thing: economic stability and an end to government corruption.

"Both of them kind of have the same purpose to make the country move on," he said. "But it's a whole different point of view on how to do it.