Surge of protesters shuts down Bangkok airport

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Watson is a Times staff writer.

Hundreds of protesters seeking to topple Thailand’s prime minister seized Bangkok’s international airport terminal Tuesday, forcing cancellation of all flights.

Members and supporters of the People’s Alliance for Democracy stormed through police lines at Suvarnabhumi Airport and into the fourth-floor departure area, according to reports from Bangkok. They were armed with metal rods, sticks and golf clubs.

That forced officials initially to suspend outbound flights. Before they canceled all air traffic, some arriving flights were rerouted to the northern city of Chiang Mai or the southern resort island of Phuket.


Images of angry tourists stranded in an airport terminal besieged by demonstrators were being broadcast around the world just as struggling resorts and hotels prepare for the peak vacation season. The multibillion-dollar tourism industry is a crucial component of the Thai economy.

Protesters demanded that airlines get their permission to use the airport, and they briefly entered the control tower.

Earlier Tuesday, Thai television showed alliance supporters firing pistols and slingshots at government supporters who had pelted the protesters with rocks as they rode in a truck from a demonstration at Don Muang airport, Bangkok’s older and smaller airfield.

Eleven people were reported injured, most of them government supporters. One was in critical condition with a gunshot wound to the chest.

Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat set up temporary offices at Don Muang after thousands of alliance supporters ringed the parliament building last month. Somchai escaped then by climbing over a back fence.

The six-month standoff pits the alliance, drawn mainly from urban Thailand, against Somchai’s more numerous rural backers. He is due to return today from a summit of Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders in Peru.


Somchai is the brother-in-law of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was forced from power by a bloodless military coup in 2006. The opposition regards Somchai as a puppet of Thaksin, a mobile-phone tycoon.

Last month, the Supreme Court found the former leader guilty of corruption for having violated conflict-of-interest rules in helping his wife buy land from a government agency at cut-rate prices.

The 2006 coup was sparked by widespread protests, and the People’s Alliance for Democracy appears to hope it can provoke military intervention again. But military commanders repeatedly have said they will not step in.

Analysts have suggested the alliance is losing support from its main backers in business and among the middle class as they feel the effect of the worsening global economy.

The anti-government alliance launched what it called “the last battle” on Monday, but failed to bring 100,000 supporters into the streets as it had predicted. Police said one-tenth that number demonstrated outside Don Muang airport. Calls for a national strike have also gone largely unheeded.

“The PAD needs to increase the level of the demonstration and use nonviolent protest and close Suvarnabhumi Airport to send a final word” to Somchai and his government, the alliance said in a statement. It called on the prime minister to “resign immediately and without conditions.”