The first flight arrived at Bangkok’s main airport yesterday after anti-government protesters packed up and left, ending a week-long siege that crippled Thailand and stranded thousands of tourists.
The exodus came a day after the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) claimed victory in its six-month campaign against Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, when a court barred him from politics and disbanded the ruling party.
Hundreds of yellow-clad demonstrators streamed out of the Suvarnabhumi international and Don Mueang domestic airports in cars, taxis and buses after the royalist PAD handed over control after ending its blockade.
But with the former government vowing to regroup and vote next week to choose Thailand’s third prime minister in three months, there was little hope of long-term stability for the kingdom.
“We will come back when the nation needs us,” said Somkiat Pongpaibul, a key leader of the PAD, which groups Bangkok’s urban elite and middle classes, backed by elements from the military and the palace.
A Thai Airways flight from Phuket was the first plane to land at Suvarnabhumi in a week, with international services to Sydney, New Delhi, Narita, Frankfurt, Seoul and Copenhagen due later in the day.
“We will try and get everything back to normal as soon as possible,” Airports of Thailand chief Vudhibhandhu Vichairatana told reporters at the airport.
More than 350,000 travelers were trapped in Thailand by the chaos, with governments around the world operating emergency flights to evacuate desperate tourists.
Damage from the occupation of the gleaming US$3 billion airport had not yet been estimated, Vudhibhandhu said.
Suvarnabhumi opened with much fanfare in 2006 and last year handled 41 million passengers.
Hundreds of protesters piled their belongings on private vehicles, cabs and buss at both airports and most were gone by the early afternoon.
The movement’s cofounder, Chamlong Srimuang, hugged and shook hands with the chief of the airport authority at Suvarnabhumi before bowing down in front of a portrait of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
“Everybody came here because they love the king,” said Neepirom Kunniam, 58, wearing the movement’s trademark yellow clothes, which symbolize devotion to the monarchy.
A line of hundreds of protesters snaked through the departures area at the international airport as they got autographs from Chamlong and PAD cofounder Sondhi Limthongkul.
Former ruling coalition members have vowed to form another government under a new banner after the toppling of Somchai, who was barred from politics for five years by the Constitutional Court in a vote fraud case.
“In the next two weeks I think we will come again,” protester Pas Apinantpreeda said.
Analysts said the developments would bring a brief respite until the remnants of the government tried to name a new prime minister in parliament next week, but would not solve the kingdom’s underlying problems.
Acting Prime Minister Chavarat Charnvirakul said parliament would likely vote on a new prime minister on Monday or Tuesday.