Thai protesters flock from Prime Minister's office to airports
Anti-government protesters in Bangkok have begun ending their three month occupation of the prime minister's offices in to consolidate their grip on the city's airports.
By Thomas Bell in Bangkok
Last Updated: 11:59AM GMT 01 Dec 2008
Protesters have forced Thai police to abandon a checkpoint as the authorities try to end a blockade of Bangkok's airports. ; http://link.brightcove.com/services/lin ... 3512990001 http://www.brightcove.com/channel.jsp?c ... 1139053637
The hardline group, calling itself the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), says it will not allow the airports to reopen until Thailand's elected government steps down.
Their latest move follows a string of recent bombings at the group's protest sites, particularly Government House, in which injured 51 people were injured on Sunday alone. On several occaisions the PAD's "guards has openned fire. The protesters blame government supporters for the explosions but it is still unclear who is behind them.
"It's too risky to stay at Government House because of repeated attacks against us," said Anchalee Paireerak, a spokeswoman for the PAD. "All of us have started to move now, we expect to complete the movement this evening. We will go to both Don Mueang and Suvarnabhumi airports," she added.
The situation in Thailand remains extremely tense with rumours swirling and several possible scenarios which could unfold over the coming days.
None of them provide any comfort for the 100 000 foreign tourists, including over 5 000 Britons, stranded by the week long closure of one of Asia's busiest airports.
The general manager of Suvarnabhumi international airport, which normally handles 700 flights a day, said it would take at least a week to restore compromised security and computer systems after the protesters leave the site, which may not happen soon.
"Normally, checking the IT systems takes one week. We have to check, recheck, check, recheck," said Serirat Prasutanond. If problems are discovered reopenning the airport could take even longer, he added.
The most dramatic new rumour is of a military kidnap plot against prime minister Somchai Wongsawat, reported on the front page of the fiercely anti-government Nation newspaper.
"A Special Branch Police source said Somchai had departed Chiang Mai after his security team received intelligence reports that some military groups wanted to take him hostage," the newspaper claimed.
"A military officer ranked as lieutenant general would lead 12 squads including 72 patrol soldiers to capture Somchai, the source said," according to the newspaper.
Mr Somchai has been based in the northern city of Chiang Mai, an electoral stronghold of the government, since shortly after the airport crisis began. He is understood to fear army action against him if he returns to the capital.
It is the latest version of repeated coup rumours that have swirled throughout the crisis. Thai political analysts and members of the government say the protesters' strategy is to create anarchy, forcing the army to step in and topple the government.
The army chief, General Anupong Paochina has repeatedly ruled out what would be Thailand's 19th coup since 1932. But he has also refused to take action against armed protesters hijacking the country's main airport and has twice called for the prime minister to step down.
Protests by the PAD preceded Thailand's last militarty coup, which overthrew the exiled prime minister Thaksin Shinwatra in 2006.
The current protests are motivated by the current government's links to Mr Thaksin, who is loved by the majority of poor voters but loathed by the Bangkok elite and powerful figures in the army and royal palace who appear to have granted the group impunity to destabalise the elected government.
Government supporters have formed a rival protest group called the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship (DAAD) which says it will physically oppose any coup.
There have been several clashes between DAAD and PAD members - possibly prefiguring further worse violence if the situation deteriorates. So far, six people have died in the crisis and many more have suffered severe injuries.
Both groups are bussing supporters into the capital from around the country. On Sunday the DAAD held a peaceful rally in Bangkok and the group is planning another large event on Tuesday.
On Tuesday Thailand's constitutional court is expected to give a ruling dissolving three parties in the coalition government for alleged electoral fraud. Government supporters have said that such a ruling would amount to a "judicial coup". In anticipation of the verdict government supporters and members of parliament have already formed a new "shell" party they will move to.
Government supporters complain that the court has handled the case against them with unusual haste and refused to hear defense witnesses.
Many observers of Thai politics note that the courts, which are seen as close to the government's enemies in the traditional elite, have delivered successive verdicts against the government but soft peddled on numerous cases involving the opposition.
On Friday Thailand's revered an individual celebrates his 81st birthday and will give his traditional birthday address, which could contain a decisive political message. Thais revere an individual as a semi-divine figure who has intervened to end previous national crises.
The anti-government protesters have cast themselves as loyal monarchists acting to protect an individual from alleged "republicanism" in the government but he has remained silent throughout the crisis although his wife, an individual, has signaled her support for the PAD.
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