International Airport Shutsdown,Anti-Government Protesters

November 26, 2008

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Flights from Thailand’s international airport have been suspended after hundreds of anti-government protesters stormed the building in Bangkok.

The demonstrators are in full control of Suvarnabhumi airport, leaving at least 3,000 passengers stranded.

A BBC correspondent says it is the most dramatic action so far by the protesters to oust the government.

The government is to hold an emergency cabinet meeting, and the head of the army is due to make a statement.

There is speculation that the army chief may impose emergency rule.

Yellow-shirted protestors from the the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) have taken over strategic areas of the airport, such as the control tower.

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They had hoped to intercept Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat as he returned from an Asia-Pacific summit in Peru, but his flight has been diverted elsewhere.

Now the PAD says it will keep the airport closed until Mr Somchai resigns.

A series of small explosions among the PAD protestors on Wednesday morning injured several people, underlining the risk of more violent clashes with pro-government groups, says the BBC’s Jonathan Head in Bangkok.

‘They won’t talk to us’

Hundreds of masked demonstrators, carrying huge Thai flags and makeshift weapons, stormed through police lines around the building on Tuesday.

Airport director Serirat Prasutanon said operations had been “totally shut down” since early on Wednesday, and that 78 outbound and incoming flights had been affected.

“We are trying to negotiate with them to allow outgoing passengers stranded by the protest to fly,” he was quoted by the Associated Press as saying.

“The incident has damaged Thailand’s reputation and its economy beyond repair.”

One stranded tourist told the BBC: “I don’t know what happened to my flight. They won’t talk to us. I’m angry and sad, because I have two small children – they’re sick, so we want to go home.”

Some British holidaymakers are among those stranded in “no-man’s land” at the airport, said a spokesman for the UK Foreign Office.

Having passed through immigration control, they are now stuck without planes to board.

Earlier, demonstrations in central Bangkok turned violent, leaving at least 11 people injured.

Thai TPBS television broadcast pictures of the violence on the main road to the capital’s old airport. The footage showed shots being fired from a truck into crowds after rocks were thrown.

At least two handguns could be seen and people standing with the gunmen raised up a picture of the revered Thai king, whom the PAD claim to be supporting.

A man was also seized by anti-government supporters and what appeared to be a large knife was held to his throat.

TPBS said its cameraman had been threatened at the scene and that PAD personnel attempted to seize his tape.

On Monday, PAD protesters converged on Bangkok’s old Don Muang international airport, from where the cabinet has been operating since its offices were occupied three months ago.

Organisers say the protest is a “final battle” to bring down the government.

Our correspondent says that the government appears to have followed a strategy of allowing the PAD to attack government buildings while avoiding clashes, in the hope that it will wear the protesters down.

The government has so far resisted calling in the army. Analysts says it is a thinly disguised aim of the PAD to provoke such a move.

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