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8TH LD: Thai protesters paralyze flights out of Bangkok.

BANGKOK, Nov. 26 Kyodo


Antigovernment protesters late Tuesday forced Thailand's international airport to suspend departing flights and to warn incoming flights of serious trouble within the airport.

The airport director announced that departures were being delayed because some protesters had broken into the departure terminal.

''It could be harmful to passengers and therefore departure service has been suspended,'' Serirat Prasutanon said. ''For incoming flights to Bangkok, the airport control tower has informed those aircraft about the current situation and it would be up to the pilot to decide, but Thai Airways has not decided to cancel its incoming flights, only cancel outgoing flights.''

Serirat added the Thai antigovernment protesters had only broken into the departure area and he hoped the situation would not escalate to the arrivals hall.

A total of 73 flights -- 43 incoming and 30 outgoing flights -- have been affected so far, he said.

Director General of Civil Aviation Department Chaisak Angkasuwan said all outgoing flights to United States and Europe would be cancelled until 7 a.m. Wednesday.

Protesters who broke into the departure hall eventually retreated to a nearby road while thousands of People's Alliance for Democracy members remained to stay overnight at the airport. Some 1,000 vehicles were left to block road access to the departure hall.

Earlier, the protesters blocked access to the departure lobby at Suvarnabhumi airport, Thailand's new international airport, where Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat was to arrive Wednesday, returning from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in Peru.

The prime minister was forced to change his plan to land at the airport to avoid the conflict. According to local media, his chartered plan would take him to Chiang Mai, a northern city which is his wife's hometown and the political stronghold of his family.

PAD leaders called for more people to join the rally at the Suvarnabhumi airport on Wednesday to oust Somchai's government.

Before leaving Lima, however, Somchai said he would never step down. Local media reported late Tuesday night that Somchai were preparing to impose an emergency decree if the situation gets worse.

About 300 police were deployed at the airport amid busy traffic because PAD initially allowed passengers to use only a single lane to enter or depart the airport.

Later, they managed to block all direct access to the departure areas, forcing passengers looking to take flights out to struggle through masses of passengers in the arrivals lounge and make their way upstairs to the departure areas.

Arriving passengers are believed still able to leave the airport by taxi, but only via the single lane.

Protesters also fully occupy Prime Minister Somchai's temporary offices at the domestic airport in Bangkok.

The developments come a day after several thousand PAD activists broke into Somchai's provisional office at Don Muang domestic airport and clashed with hundreds of policemen.

Somchai has been forced to use a building at the airport as a temporary seat of government since Government House in central Bangkok has been occupied by PAD activists since August.

Tuesday, the activists at the domestic airport were reinforced by thousands more who moved there from Government House, bringing the temporary seat of government firmly under their control.

Former Bangkok Gov. Chamlong Srimuang, a PAD leader, said the activists will continue their protests at both Government House and at Don Muang until they topple the coalition led by the People Power Party, formed by loyalists of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

In addition, several thousand antigovernment protesters also moved to block Armed Forces headquarters to prevent the Cabinet from holding its weekly meeting.

The protesters were unable to enter the Armed Forces headquarters, but they vowed to cut electricity within the compounds.

Thai Army Commander-in-Chief Anupong Paochinda reiterated Tuesday that the armed forces are not preparing a coup, but added they are ''ready to deal with'' any ''unexpected situation.''

He added the armed forces will closely cooperate with police to prevent violence.

Police said, however, 11 government supporters were wounded when PAD security guards and members fired bullets into a group of taxi drivers who support the government.

Police detained one suspect from the scene but most fled.

According to police, PAD may have been seeking revenge because taxi drivers threw stones at them when PAD protesters were heading to Don Muang airport.

PAD began its antigovernment protests May 25, accusing the government of then Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej of being a political proxy of Thaksin.

They continued their protests even after Samak was unseated by the Constitutional Court in early September.

Monday, the activists blocked access to Parliament and forced it to postpone an important joint legislative session.

The legislature rescheduled for Dec. 8 and 9 a session to approve documents to be either signed or adopted next month in Chiang Mai at summit meetings organized by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
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Publication:Asian Political News
Date:Dec 1, 2008
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