Page last updated at 10:54 GMT, Saturday, 22 May 2010 11:54 UK

Are Bangkok protests just a taste of things to come?

A firefighter takes a break working on a fire that burned all night at Central World shopping mall

By Chris Hogg
BBC News, Bangkok

The military may have cleared protesters from the streets of Bangkok, but residents of the Thai city remain concerned about the future.

Soi Yommarat is the name of a sleepy lane in Saladaeng, a small neighbourhood right in the middle of Bangkok.

The lane is lined on both sides with what they call here "shop houses". Downstairs there is a business. Upstairs there is room to live.

For most of the day it is pretty quiet and only at lunchtime does it start to wake up.

Aun, the hairdresser who lives on the corner at one end, lets a friend sell home-made drinks on the steps outside his salon.

The office workers from the skyscrapers nearby stop to gossip as they make their way down to the open-air restaurant on the other side of the road.

By 1400 they are all back inside with the air conditioning on full blast and, as the afternoon light fades, life on the lane takes on a rather languid air again.

By nightfall it is deserted and silent.

Sea of soldiers

When Thailand's government began a military operation to clear the red-shirt anti-government protesters from the camp they had erected in the city centre, the silence was broken.

We are all Thai, we are hurting each other... that's not good
Max, Bangkok resident

Max is a young Thai man in his 30s, an IT specialist who lives on Soi Yommarat.

He came out onto his balcony that evening and below him all he could see was soldiers - hundreds of them.

The troops had been tasked with securing the area around the camp, the first stage in a plan to remove the protesters.

By the time Max left for work the next morning there was black smoke hanging in the air.

It came from the burning barricades of tyres that the demonstrators had erected on the highway nearby to try to halt the troops advance.

It was the last time he saw his home for nearly a week.

'Firing live rounds'

By nightfall Max's neighbourhood had become too dangerous to venture back into.

This is not the end of the story... it's the end of the first chapter
Narong, Bangkok resident

The soldiers had taken up positions near to the red-shirts' barricades just a few hundred metres from the end of his lane.

They were firing live rounds, so for six nights he stayed with a friend or with his family in another part of town.

He had no fresh clothes with him. He felt like he did not want to go to work. He got more and more depressed as the week went on.

"We are all Thai, we are hurting each other... that's not good," says Max.

When the final assault on the camp came, he told me he could not watch it on the news.

His friend Narong, a designer, lives on the other side of the camp.

A red shirt anti-government protester holds a Thai flag as tyres burn
Fighting between protesters and forces has left more than 30 people dead

He has his own shop - a showroom where he displays the gowns he creates for his well-to-do customers - and a workshop where his staff turn the sketches he produces into reality.

Like Max, he is in his 30s. Another well-educated, middle-class Thai.

Now that this protest is over, he too is wondering what the implications of the army's bloody crackdown might be for the city where he lives and has a business.

"This is not the end of the story," he says. "It's the end of the first chapter. There will be more violence."

He admits he was excited when the protests started. He told me it felt like he was witnessing history.

"I didn't think it would affect me really," he says. "I thought 'You want to protest? You go for it!'"

But then as the days of protest turned into weeks and there were explosions, grenades and shots fired, he started to get more scared.

"This became much more than we had expected," he says.

'Life goes on'

I have been coming to Bangkok on and off for seven years now. I know what he means.

Thai soldiers move on anti-government protestors
Thailand's prime minister says order has been restored in the country

Analysts and commentators have tracked and highlighted deepening divisions in Thai society.

But for anyone who knows this city, the sight of soldiers defending their positions with live fire to keep protesters at bay, or of armoured personnel carriers breaking down hand-made highway barricades so that troops can overrun them is deeply unsettling.

Where does this go from here?

The government's military operation to regain control of its capital city has probably intensified the divisions in society.

As Bangkok's governor, Sukhumbhand Paripatra, put it: "We can fix the roads immediately, but we do not know how long it will take to fix the wounded hearts and minds of the people."

Narong, the designer, opened his shop again the morning after the protest leaders surrendered, having closed it early the afternoon before, when arsonists disrupted the city's power supply and friends warned him the reds were "going crazy".

Life goes on. He has a business to run.

Max, the IT man, is back home again in Soi Yommarat.

"This was the beginning of something, not the end," he says, and I can hear the regret in his voice.

"The red-shirts won't forget what happened here - it will explode again."

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