Tourists warned of violence in holiday paradise Thailand

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The Independent Online

Asian countries have warned tourists against travel to the Thai capital after the worst political violence in two decades left 21 dead while nations across the world urged citizens to avoid the protests.

South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan issued travel advisories over the weekend warning tourists to stay away from Bangkok as the violence had spilled over into the Khao San Road area favoured by backpackers, causing alarm.

Seventeen civilians including a Japanese cameraman were killed along with four soldiers after the army launched a crackdown on supporters of fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra on Saturday following weeks of demonstrations.

The Hong Kong government raised its travel alert over the weekend, advising residents against visiting the city as the security situation continued to deteriorate, and the warning remained in place as of Monday.

Travel agents cancelled tours, although around 1,000 Hong Kong residents not on package tours were estimated to be in the Thai capital as of Friday evening, the government said.

Regular scheduled flights between Hong Kong and Bangkok were unaffected, the city's airport authority said.

Taiwan's foreign ministry urged Taiwanese tourists already in Thailand to stay away from Bangkok, and called on citizens to avoid travelling to the country.

April is the month of Songkran, a water festival that celebrates the Thai new year and usually attracts thousands of tourists to the country.

The Thai Retailers Association estimated on Thursday the protesters' occupation of the main commercial district has caused more than one billion baht (about 31 million dollars) in losses.

The industry has suffered billions of dollars of financial losses in the past few years because of political unrest and foreign visitor arrivals are down 20-30 percent from last year, according to sector officials.

In Seoul, the foreign ministry advised against going to Bangkok, though the country's largest travel agency said most South Koreans head to Thailand's beaches rather than the capital.

Tokyo on Sunday renewed its alert for tourists visiting Thailand "to keep well informed about the local situation" and avoid protest areas.

The government also advised Japanese not to wear red, the symbolic colour of the anti-government protesters, to "avoid unnecessary confusion and misunderstandings".

Japanese department store chain Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings said it had suspended operations at its Bangkok outlet since April 3 due to the protests.

"We don't know when we'll be able to resume operations there," a spokesman said.

The United States, Australia, New Zealand and Britain urged their citizens to take extra care in Bangkok but stopped short of advising against travel there.

"The situation in Thailand remains volatile. British nationals should exercise extreme caution throughout the country, and avoid demonstrations and large gatherings," the British foreign ministry said in a notice posted on its website.

"If violence breaks out again British nationals are advised to remain indoors and to monitor the media and this website.

In updated advice issued Sunday, New Zealand's foreign ministry said New Zealanders should follow news of events in the Thai capital and "be aware of their surroundings at all times".

Advice on the website of the US embassy in Bangkok urged Americans to follow events and warned that demonstrations intended to be peaceful could turn violent.

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