Bangkok Cut Off from World as Second Airport Seized

BANGKOK ~ Thai anti-government protesters shut down Bangkok’s second airport on Thursday, further crippling the kingdom as tourists scrambled to leave and fears grew the crisis was deepening.

Supporters of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) blockaded the old Don Mueang airport in an attempt to prevent ministers from flying to Chiang Mai in the north to meet Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat.

But cabinet members slipped out of the city in small aircraft to attend the emergency meeting to discuss how to deal with a six-month campaign to topple the administration which has paralyzed the functions of government.

“I authorized Don Mueang’s director-general to close the airport from midnight. It is closed indefinitely until normalcy is restored,” Saererat Prasutanond, president of operator Airports of Thailand, told Thai television.

“The two airports that serve Bangkok are completely closed.”

Somchai refused on Wednesday to heed pressure from powerful army chief General Anupong Paojinda to dissolve parliament and call elections, saying: “my government will preserve democracy.”

Anupong also ordered protesters to leave Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport, which they besieged late Tuesday forcing the airport to suspend flights and leaving 3,000 tourists temporarily trapped inside.

In open defiance of his calls, protesters instead blockaded Don Mueang, which serves a handful of domestic routes.

The PAD launched their campaign to topple the democratically-elected government six months ago, accusing it of being a puppet of ousted and exiled premier Thaksin Shinawatra – Somchai’s brother-in-law.

The group has the backing of elements in the palace, military and Bangkok’s old elite that want to purge society of the influence of Thaksin, who is adored by the rural poor but remains in exile to avoid a jail term for corruption.

As both sides refuse to back down, concerns deepened for the kingdom’s economy, vital tourism industry and diplomatic ties.

“Several countries are seriously concerned with the incidents happening in our country now – there is no rule of law,” foreign minister Sompong Amornviwat told the AFP newswire by telephone from Germany.

The PAD has vowed to stay at three protest sites – Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang and Somchai’s Government House offices in central Bangkok that they seized in August – until the premier quits.

“Please be reassured that we will claim victory today (Thursday) as long as we maintain our rallies and are able to completely shut down Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports,” PAD leader Chamlong Srimuang said.

At Suvarnabhumi, thousands of PAD supporters clad in their signature yellow clothes – symbolising support for the revered king – massed outside while others set up camp in the state-of-the-art airport.

Most of the 3,000 stranded passengers were bussed to hotels on Wednesday, and thousands of tourists are are now trying to escape Thailand.

“I can’t wait for the airport to reopen anymore. I have to find a way to get out of this country,” said one business traveller from the Philippines who had turned up at Suvarnabhumi Airport in the hope of getting a flight.

The state-run long-distance bus company said passengers numbers were up 50 percent in last few days.

At least 60,000 passengers should be arriving through Suvarnabhumi each day during the high season, he said.

Thai government supporters Thursday urged Somchai to declare a state of emergency to try and bring the kingdom back under control.

“We are calling for the government to declare a state of emergency in today’s cabinet meeting,” Jatuporn Prompan, a lawmaker from the ruling People Power Party told AFP.

Outbursts of violence between rival groups – one PAD supporter was killed on Wednesday while another brief gun battle broke out early Thursday – have raised fears of escalating unrest.

“Certainly there will be bloodshed because protesters have refused to cave in,” said Manit Jitchanklab, a pro-government activist.

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