Partying Thai Protesters Leave Airport – with a Warning

BANGKOK ~ As anti-government protesters partied and then helpfully swept up Bangkok’s main Suvarnabhumi airport after their eight-day siege, they gave an ominous warning.

“In the next two weeks I think we will come again,” said Pas Apinantpreeda of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) as hundreds of its demonstrators left in cars, taxis and buses.

The royalist PAD declared victory and officially ended a crippling siege of the airport on Wednesday that at its height saw 10,000 demonstrators converge, after a court on Tuesday ousted Thailand’s prime minister and disbanded his ruling party.

But with members of the same government likely to regroup and choose another premier next week, the PAD, which wears yellow as a symbol of devotion to the revered Thai monarchy, is unlikely to stay silent.

“We have got a reason to leave – in the next two days we have the king’s birthday and we don’t want any problems for him. But I think the ruling party will collaborate to make a new government, we cannot accept that,” Pas said.

While 350,000 frustrated travellers remain stranded in Thailand, there was a festival atmosphere among the protesters who bundled their belongings onto Suvarnabhumi’s shiny trollies.

In front of a flatbed truck from which PAD leaders have rallied their troops with rousing speeches and live music, protesters in yellow shirts shook the plastic hand-clappers that have become the kitsch symbol of their movement.

A merchandising industry has sprung up around the airport occupation, with enterprising vendors selling T-shirts emblazoned with the Apple Inc logo and the words “i-PAD”.

Some female protesters were heavily made up, dressed to the nines and carrying small pet dogs – a reminder that the movement draws much of its support from the Bangkok establishment and the urban elite and middle class.

But piles of wooden staves lying inside the terminal showed the dark side of the protest, which just days ago looked like it could have ended in a bloody raid by security forces.

That was forgotten on Wednesday as hundreds of PAD members queued to greet their heroes, PAD founder Sondhi Limthongkul and co-founder Chamlong Srimuang, a former general, and get their autographs.

“I want to meet Mr Chamlong and Mr Sondhi. They are heroes of the country because they fight the government, because the government is corrupt,” said Kittikarn Methatitaknon, 20.

At a small airport “handover” ceremony, Chamlong hugged and shook hands with Airports of Thailand (AOT) boss Vudhibhandhu Vichairatana before bowing down and paying his respects in front of a portrait of the king.

It marked the official end to a siege that has racked up enormous economic costs, caused untold damage to Thailand’s vital tourism industry and harmed the kingdom’s international standing.

In victory the PAD were keen to clear up their own image, with diligent PAD members mopping the terminal floor and bin liners piled high with rubbish. They were later joined by airport cleaners and technicians.

Outside, the PAD’s volunteer guards pulled concrete roadblocks out of the path of police and journalists.

The highly organized PAD machine was even churning out fried chicken and rice for the remaining protesters’ last breakfast as they waited for transport home.

“I feel very sad because we have lived together for many many days and it’s like we’re in the same family,” said Serm Saengsurin, 55, a teacher.

Also at Suvarnabhumi was a German national who was not there to catch a flight – but to join the PAD’s protest.

“If this is not the end of it, we come back next week or next month, we will be back,” said Andy North, 52, who has been in Thailand for three years doing a masters in Thai politics.

“This (the PAD) is like an army, it moves in five minutes, you have no control over it. Military, police cannot take control of it. They’re gone.”

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