Bangkok cinemas burned by rioters

Multiplexes, classic theater destroyed by arsonists

BEIJING -- Several major Bangkok movie theaters have been reduced to ashes, victims of an ongoing uprising against the Thai government that claimed the lives of 44 people in the past week.

In the capital's downtown area, Central World, the biggest shopping complex in Thailand, was destroyed by fire set by arsonists Wednesday, taking the 15-screen SF World Cinemas with it. Reports said gunmen shot at firefighters trying to enter the mall's parking garage.

Arsonists attacked some 35 buildings in the city of nine million, including the five-year-old Siam Paragon complex, which houses a 14-screen theater owned by Major Cineplex, including one Imax screen. A fire there was extinguished before extensive damage caused.

The classic Siam Theater nearby was gutted by fire. The 1,000-seat, single-screen cinema opened in the 1960s, and was considered a Bangkok landmark, especially among film fans.

The SF World and Major multiplexes, shut for the last six weeks while protesters blockaded the streets around them, were host to the Bangkok International Film Festival in recent years. Organizers of the event had already planned on using different venues.

Hardcore anti-government "Red Shirt" protesters dissatisfied with their leaders' surrender resorted to looting and torching the shopping malls, seen as symbols of a growing consumerist culture that has turned its back on Thailand's rural poor.

The fires were sure to slow the boxoffice of Tony Jaa's newest martial arts release, "Ong Bak 3," released May 5 by distributor Sahamongkolfilm.

-- Steven Schwankert in Beijing contributed to this report.
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