Tue, Dec 02, 2008 - Page 1 News List

Thai protesters move to airports

TRAVEL GRIDLOCK Tourism officials said more than 300,000 travelers were stranded in the kingdom and their numbers were growing by the tens of thousands every day

AGENCIES , BANGKOK

Anti-government protesters reinforced their siege of Bangkok’s two airports yesterday as the country struggled with more than 300,000 stranded travelers.

In a switch of tactics, the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) told its members occupying the prime minister’s office compound for the last three months to leave and join compatriots at the airports, which they seized last week in their push to oust the government.

Alliance leader Chamlong Srimuang called on protesters to move out of Government House “to the airports to support our people there.”

By dusk, only a couple of hundreds remained and the number of protesters at the two aiports had grown to about 6,000.

Suriyasai Katasila, a PAD leader, said yesterday they were preparing to return Government House to the authorities. He said government officials and independent observers would be invited to inspect the compound today and it could be handed over later in the day.

“If everybody is happy, we may hold a returning ceremony tomorrow,” he said.

Meanwhile, airlines are flying dozens of empty planes out of Suvarnabhumi international airport, which was seized last Tuesday.

Some 30 planes had been flown out starting on Sunday and 50 more were to be moved yesterday, some to protest-free airports elsewhere in Thailand so that stranded tourists, businesspeople and others can fly out of the country, said Serirat Prasutanont, acting director of the Airports Authority of Thailand.

He said the airport would remain closed at least until tomorrow, renewing a shutdown that has been repeated every 48 hours.

The loss of international air links over the past week has forced thousands to cancel their vacations during peak tourist season, halted postal services and stopped the arrival of everything from specialized medicines to raw fish for Bangkok’s Japanese restaurants.

Neither the army nor the king has stepped in to resolve the crisis — or offered the firm backing that Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat needs to resolve the leadership vacuum.

However, King Bhumibol Adulyadej is scheduled to deliver a much-anticipated speech on Thursday, the eve of his 81st birthday. But whether he will actually move to resolve the paralyzing situation is uncertain.

The Constitutional Court also is to rule soon on whether three parties in the governing coalition, including Somchai’s People’s Power Party, committed electoral fraud.

Closing arguments from the defendants will be heard today. The police yesterday asked the military to help them guard the court, amid reports protesters were planning to march to the building today.

If found guilty, the parties would be dissolved immediately and its officials, including Somchai, could be barred from politics for five years. Whether this would satisfy the anti-government protesters is uncertain.

The Foreign Ministry planned to propose today the postponement of the annual ASEAN summit scheduled for the middle of this month, ministry spokesman Thani Thongpakdee said.

Kongrit Hiranyakit, head of the Tourism Council of Thailand, said more than 300,000 travelers were stranded in Thailand, with 35,000 to 45,000 being added to that number each day the airports remain closed.

Thousands of others trying to enter Thailand from around the world are also in a holding pattern.

Stranded travelers are driving hundreds of kilometers to other airports such as Chiang Mai and Phuket. But one such journey ended in death. A Hong Kong man traveling by car to Phuket was killed in a car crash early yesterday, Hong Kong’s Security Bureau said. His wife was injured.

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