Thailand Cancels Flights as Protesters Storm Airport

Nov. 26 (Bloomberg) — Thai authorities warned of flight chaos for thousands of passengers and damage to the tourism industry after anti-government protesters stormed the main terminal at Bangkok’s international airport, closing it down.

Four people were injured by a grenade this morning at the airport, TPBS television station reported. Parnthep Pongpourpan, a spokesman for the protesters, said the injuries weren’t serious and the People’s Alliance for Democracy group will wait for the return of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, whose resignation they are demanding.

The demonstrators, who want Somchai to take responsibility for deadly clashes with police last month, may force him to declare a state of emergency to prevent escalating violence. The prime minister, set to return today from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Peru, has rejected the resignation calls and police have avoided using force since the Oct. 7 clash in which two people died and 470 were injured.

“Tens of thousands of tourists will be stranded here as we stopped departure flights,” Porntip Hirunkate, secretary-general of the Tourism Council of Thailand, told Thai PBS television late yesterday. “This will hurt our tourism in December, which is our high season. The impact may go further to next year too.”

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said it was monitoring the situation and may issue a travel warning. Countries including Singapore and South Korea in September warned travelers about visiting Thailand after protesters forced the closure of its second-busiest airport in the resort of Phuket.

Three-Month Occupation

Thousands of PAD activists, who have occupied Somchai’s official Government House compound in central Bangkok for three months, yesterday stormed his temporary office after forcing parliament to abandon its sessions a day earlier. That postponement may affect Thailand’s ability to sign international trade agreements at a summit of the Association of South East Asian Nations it is hosting Dec. 15-18.

Thai authorities are using “non-violent measures” to contain the protests though may “further step up” actions later, government spokesman Nattawut Saikuar said yesterday. Chaisak Ungswan, director-general of the Air Transportation Department, said the airport remain closed until at least Noon local time with incoming flights diverted to alternative airports.

The Bangkok-based PAD, which includes many middle-class Thais and receives support from the country’s royalist elite, accuses Somchai’s ruling party of buying votes to win elections and of trying to protect Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister ousted in a 2006 coup who fled the country to escape corruption charges.

Shots Fired Yesterday

At least five people have died since August as a result of the protests. Two people were hurt yesterday when shots were fired during a clash between protesters and pro-government supporters on a Bangkok highway, Agence France-Presse reported, citing police.

Traffic was brought to a standstill on the six-lane road leading to the airport. Cars turned round to drive back with their hazard lights on.

Serirat Prasutanond, general manager at Suvarnabhumi Airport, said he didn’t know when normal services would resume.

“I’m very angry,” said Aly Mdouj, 36, a South African businessman, as he lay on his luggage inside the main terminal. “This is unbelievable. I need to get home.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Rattaphol Onsanit in Bangkok at ronsanit@bloomberg.net

Last Updated: November 25, 2008 20:18 EST
By Rattaphol Onsanit

Source: Bloomberg

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