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Clean up of Thai streets hits Bangkok's street vendors

Thailand's military government is pushing a nationwide crackdown on street vendors, in an effort to clean up the country's streets and image. Authorities claim the long standing roadside markets are a threat to public safety, but vendors are concerned they will be out of a livelihood.

BANGKOK: Hot and teeming with people, Bangkok's street markets are very much a part of Thai life. Lisa Santodirocco, a tourist, said: "The market itself is characteristic of (Bangkok), it's a part of the exotic charm of the place."

But the military government's campaign to bring happiness back to the Thai people will soon bring an end to these bustling outdoor businesses. That is because the military has received complaints that these markets are unregulated, untidy and cause congestion for pedestrians. A nationwide crackdown is now underway and major tourist destinations like Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket are the main focus.

The area just outside the temple of the Emerald Buddha - the Ta Chang market - is one such target. It is frequented not only by local Thais but also foreign tourists looking for cheap deals on Buddhist artifacts. However, it is set up along a public pathway - making it difficult to navigate for those trying to catch a bus, head to the office or walk between the various tourist locations located in the area.

Authorities claim that these pavement areas are public areas and that they are claiming them back for the people. Police Major General Vichai Sangparpai, the advisor to Governor of Bangkok, said: "This problem has been festering for a long time. It stems from the fact that these vendors only worry about themselves. They take public spaces to earn their living. Each day, there are hundreds of thousands of people commuting each day, but they can't walk on the footpaths because of all these vendors."

But vendors said they are entitled to these public areas as well. Wachara Nimnak, a second-hand book seller, said: "Public spaces can be used by everyone - the public should be able to walk around safely, but at the same time, vendors looking to earn a living need to think about the public. They need to keep their areas neat, clean and out of the way."

Authorities have proposed that vendors be relocated to new areas, but the vendors maintain that these new zones are lacking in customers. Buddhist artifact seller Daeng said: "They want me to move to Thewet. There is nobody there. I went to see it already, it's a fresh produce market. I can't sell my wares there. I'm just a small shop. How am I supposed to move there?"

Still, it looks like the army is intent on the clean-up. But if the street vendors are not able to successfully relocate their businesses, the army may simply be trading a short-term solution for a long-term problem if these vendors can no longer earn a living.

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