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Black dust envelops Bangkok but life goes on.

Rubber particles finally come to rest after rising in columns of dense acrid smoke during the street protests

By Mick O'ReillyC Deputy Managing Editor

There is a fine black dust covering everything in this city of ten million people. It gets in your eyes, your eyes and you can't help but inhale it.

Outside an Egyptian restaurant in Bangkok's Arab district, some workers were busy throwing buckets of water over the cobblestones and were working up a sweat brushing the dirty water down a drain.

It's lunchtime, but only one man, a beer-bellied tattooed Briton is drinking and smoking shisha.

He's oblivious to this fine dust -- the only thing in his mind's eye are the flirtatious Thai girls.

At a street corner, some tuktuk drivers are playing dice for money and are quick to underbid each other for the few foreign fares still available.

Further down Nana street, the shops and stalls have their trinkets and T-shirts on display. At Paul's Tailors, where you can get a handmade suit in a day for 3,000 baht (Dh340), the measuring tapes hang limp around the necks of the five assistants.

On the street, few locals are stopping at the street stalls selling all types of barbecued food and noodles. There is, after all, a fine black dust most likely flavouring that street food.

The fine dust is actually rubber particles that have come to rest after rising in columns of dense acrid smoke during days of street protests. The anti-government Red Shirt protesters quickly lit those tyre barricades at the first sign of trouble.

The protesters were well organised and had thought out their defences well.

Beside every tyre barricade were cooking gas cylinders with rubber hoses attached, or industrial gas cylinders the type welders use. At the first sign of a military advance, the makeshift flame throwers were lit and used to then quickly set the fires. The burning tyres provided a smokescreen through which the army couldn't easily identify targets.

Homemade napalm

The petrol bombs were cleverly thought out too. Some palm sugar was added to the petrol mix, a homemade napalm as it were, ensuring the flames would stick and burn more fiercely to whatever they hit.

The quick-burning tyres were also placed at wooden poles that carry power cables around the city: flames go up, cables come down and power goes out.

On Friday, Royal Thai Police recovered 22 million baht worth of gold and jewellery from a car parked near a Buddhist temple where some Red Shirts had sought sanctuary at the height of Wednesday's military assault.

The jewellery had been looted from a store in the Centre Point Shopping Centre before the mall was deliberately set ablaze. It was Thailand's largest shopping centre.

Not any more. It is going to be rebuilt from the ground up. It was, after all, burned to the ground on Wednesday.

On that day -- I like to refer to it as Ash Wednesday -- as I cowered behind a wall with bullets whizzing over my head from both military and Red Shirts, one teen offered me a homemade hand grenade.

I politely declined with a "No thanks," and was tempted to sarcastically add: "I've just had one." I refrained. He ran to the end of the alley and threw it up the burning street towards the troops.

Yesterday evening as I travelled to the airport, I went through four separate military checkpoints.

No, there were no looted jewels or homemade hand grenades in my luggage. But there was that black dust on my computer bag and on my suitcase and in my eyes. At least I got to leave.

It's going to take Thailand a very long time to recover from the eruptive clouds of fine black dust. If ever.


Clean up operation

A worker atop a garbage truck during a major cleaning operation at the shopping district of Bangkok yesterday which was occupied for almost two months by anti-government Red Shirt protesters.

The protesters had thought out their defences well. Beside every tyre barricade were cooking gas cylinders with rubber hoses attached.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:May 23, 2010
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