BANGKOK – Thailand’s bloody political crisis has been scaring away tourists for weeks but took a new turn Tuesday when some of the capital’s finest hotels sent guests packing for fear of violence at their doorsteps.

The Grand Hyatt and InterContinental hotels in Bangkok told guests they would have to leave, while The Four Seasons remained open but closed all four of its restaurants and saw its cavernous lobby empty except for a few wilted orchids.

The hotels took action on one of the more relaxed days in the deadlock created by anti-government demonstrators who began occupying city streets more than five weeks ago. They abandoned plans to march into the heart of the capital’s central business district Tuesday after soldiers in full combat gear were deployed to bar the way.

However, the failure to march did nothing to ease tensions. The so-called “Red Shirt” protesters reinforced defenses at their urban encampment and prepared homemade weapons, including hundreds of sharpened bamboo poles. The army in response said it would be prepared to use greater force in any confrontations because of the danger posed by the weapons.

“The situation is very tense. We are relocating guests to other hotels for their safety,” said Patty Lerdwittayaskul, a spokeswoman at the 380-room Grand Hyatt Erawan, which will close until at least Saturday.

The Red Shirts have occupied the capital’s luxury hotel and shopping district for 18 days in their six-week bid to overthrow the government. Upscale malls closed almost immediately, as protesters transformed the area into a noisy and litter-strewn tent camp with outdoor showers and portable toilets for the thousands of supporters sleeping on the sidewalk.

The protesters, formally known as the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, initially were camped in a historic district of Bangkok. But a failed April 10 attempt by security forces to flush protesters from that neighborhood erupted into the worst political violence Thailand has seen in 18 years, leaving 25 dead and 800 wounded. It also prompted the protesters to consolidate in the shopping zone, which has become their strategic stronghold.

“No more ‘Land of Smiles,’ the image has been destroyed,” said Apichart Sankary, from the Federation of Thai Tourism Associations, referring to Thailand’s tourist-friendly nickname. “Tourists are frightened to see military personnel carrying guns. They can’t believe this is Thailand.”


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