BANGKOK, May 26: Like everyone else in the city, Nepalis living in Bangkok are heaving a sigh of relief as life eerily returns to normal following the most violent street protests there in almost two decades.
Many working in localities captured by anti-government protesters are happy they can finally go to work from Monday. Those with businesses are also eagerly waiting to spring back into action and open their shops or firms.
“It looks like it´s over - at least for now,” Ramesh K Hamal, chief operating officer of Thailand-based property firm Green Heritage Group, tells myrepublica.com.
Hamal, who is president of the Non Resident Nepalis Association (Thailand Chapter), has his office at Phloen Chit. This locality is right outside what - until some days ago - used to be the conflict zone in central Bangkok, where anti-government protesters dug in behind tyres and long, sharpened sticks, while government troops prowled in armored vehicles.
It was a disturbing sight, yet people like Hamal, who had offices or businesses in the area, continued working as both sides in the conflict stayed relatively calm.
But things turned violent on May 13 after the government announced it would use force to reclaim the area occupied by protesters.
“The next morning everyone knew government forces and protesters would clash. So all of us had left the office by mid-day,” Hamal says.
Clashes that ensued took 37 lives by late Sunday evening.
During this tense three-day period, troops fired rubber bullets and live ammunition while protesters fought back with homemade rockets, stones and slingshots. People who tiptoed onto their balconies to check the situation were also shot dead. And many panicked as food stocks dwindled and grocery stores remained closed.
Electricity was cut off in the entire protest zone to prevent demonstrators from making announcements and speeches from huge stages set up at the site. This caused more inconvenience to members of the general public who wanted to charge cell phones or cook on electric stoves.
Then shooting stopped on Monday and an uneasy calm prevailed. A few banks and firms opened. One of them was Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC).
Pushkar Shrestha, finance manager at NAC, tells myrepublica.com: “We used back alleys to reach the office, as keeping it closed would have sent the ticketing and catering services into disarray.”
Tuesday also remained relatively peaceful. But on Wednesday, after anti-government protest leaders surrendered and announced the end to their protest, some discontented protesters barged into Thailand´s largest shopping complex, Central World, the stock exchange building and Siam Theater and set them on fire.
Altogether 39 buildings in the Thai capital became targets of arson that day and 14 people were killed, including an Italian photographer. This was the tragic end to the 67-day protest.
During the unrest, “No Nepali was injured or killed,” confirms Prahlad Kumar Prasain, a senior official at the Nepali Embassy in Thailand.
Around 4,000 to 5,000 Nepalis work in Thailand, according to the embassy. Around 50 work in or around what was the protest zone.
The latest protest in Thailand was called by the red-shirted United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) to press the government to dissolve parliament and call early election.
The protesters want early polls. They feel they were cheated by the incumbent government which came to power in December 2008 following a “judicial coup” in which the then ruling People´s Power Party was dissolved on charges of vote buying.
The protesters, who come from impoverished provinces in northern and northeastern Thailand, also feel they have long been suppressed and robbed of opportunities by the “elites” or “aristocrats”.
The demonstrators begun their “class revolution” peacefully on March 14, camping near Khao San - a backpackers hub in Bangkok - and singing and listening to speeches by various leaders.
Things turned nasty on April 10, when 25 people, including a Japanese photojournalist, were killed in clashes between government troops and protesters.
The demonstrators then moved their protest to Rajprasong intersection - a major commercial hub and home to many embassies. The protests ended last week, after 70 deaths and hundreds of others injured.
All the while the protesters expected the king, a demigod by many Thais, to intervene as in the May 1992 protests, in which also scores lost their lives. But as the 82-year-old monarch - who has been in hospital since September - did not utter a word about the red-shirt demonstrations in his 60th Coronation Day address early this month, people started assuming he did not want to take sides.
Since the protests have ended without any demands being fulfilled many believe the red shirts will gather again to give a conclusion to what they started in mid-March.