Monthly Archives: November 2008

The scene at Thailand’s U-Tapao airport: my AFP story

Bangkok’s international airport remains closed today, and it’s unclear when flights will resume. Yesterday I visited U-Tapao airport, about two hours southeast of Bangkok, where some international flights have been arriving and landing. Here’s an AFP story I wrote about the scene there:

AFP/Bangkok Post: “At U-Tapao: ‘They have killed tourism’

Bangkok airport closure: Friday update

Here are the latest developments from Bangkok:

— Anti-government protesters continue to occupy Bangkok’s international airport. They have now also forced the closure of Bangkok’s domestic airport.

Thousands of passengers are still stranded here in the city, though they’ve been moved from the airport to various hotels. (Some tourists have reportedly been able to leave Thailand by traveling over-land from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where the airport has a wide range of international flights.)

— Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat has declared a state of emergency, which would allow the government to dislodge protesters from the airports. However, the government seems reluctant to clear out the demonstrators for fear of bloody clashes.

— Rumors were flying here in Bangkok last night that there would be a military coup. That hasn’t happened. But the possibility cannot be dismissed.

Following are links to media coverage:

Reuters: “Q+A-Thailand’s intractable political crisis

A snip:

HOW DOES AIRPORT SIEGE HELP PAD’S CAUSE?

The chaos is costing the PAD public support, especially as tourism, which employs 1.8 million people, will suffer badly.

But its ultimate goal is to make Bangkok ungovernable and trigger a putsch against a government they say is a pawn of ousted and exiled leader Thaksin Shinawatra.

Under an interim military government, the PAD would then have more chance of advancing its “new politics” agenda to ensure a parliament stuffed with appointed grandees.

Some of the PAD’s plans are codenamed “Hiroshima” and “Nagasaki”, and their ideologues have been quoted on the need for political assassinations.

BBC: “Thailand teeters on the brink

The occupation of Thailand’s main international airport is the boldest and riskiest move yet by the People’s Alliance for Democracy, after a string of similar stunts over the past four months.

It has certainly done immense damage to the vital tourist industry, and even many sympathetic Thais will feel that this militant, anti-government movement has gone too far in its quest to unseat the government.

But could this be the shock that finally breaks the deadlock which has paralyzed the country for most of this year?

It has certainly shocked army commander Anupong Paochinda into playing a hand that, while even-handed on the surface – it calls for both new elections and for a PAD withdrawal – is being viewed by many in the government camp as little short of a silent coup.

The reason is complex, but such is the mistrust among different factions in Thailand now they tend to assume the worst of each other.

WSJ: “Thai Protesters Overtake Second Bangkok Airport

Antigovernment protesters swarmed Bangkok’s second major airport and Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat declared a state of emergency at both facilities as a monthslong political crisis appeared headed for a climax.

The developments — coming a day after thousands of protesters took over the country’s main international airport — intensified speculation Thailand could be heading for another military coup.

Late Thursday, there was also some conjecture that Mr. Somchai, who said protesters were “holding the country hostage,” might order Thailand’s police — and possibly not the army — to clear them from the airport terminals. The emergency declaration allows him to prohibit gatherings.

In a nationally televised address, Mr. Somchai said “I do not have any intention to hurt any members of the public,” though it wasn’t clear how demonstrators who have vowed to stay put until Mr. Somchai quits could be removed without force. The premier said the navy and air force will assist police in clearing the airports.

A government spokesman later said police had been instructed to remove the protesters “as soon as possible” but in “a peaceful manner,” according to the Associated Press. The same spokesman urged the country’s army units to stay in their barracks.

IHT/NYT: “Thai Chief Permits Evicting Protesters

Snip from the end of the story:

…The seizure of Bangkok’s airports is radical even by the standards of Thailand’s tempestuous political past.

Despite frequent military coups and changes of government in past decades, the day-to-day operation of Thailand’s bureaucracy had been largely unaffected until now. The airports functioned with little interruption during a military coup in 2006, and, unlike many of its neighbors, Thailand has maintained reliable service in crucial areas like electricity and health care despite political turmoil.

But with the closing of the airports and the occupation of the prime minister’s office since August, politics is now directly interfering with many facets of life in Thailand. The airport disruption alone has caused havoc in Thailand’s tourism industry and disrupted Southeast Asian commerce.

“The protesters have basically closed down the country,” said Ruth Banomyong, an associate professor at Thammasat Business School, Thammasat University, who is one of the region’s leading specialists in logistics.

“Thailand was never considered as a very risky country,” he said. “I don’t think companies would have prepared for this.”

The Nation: “Capital increasingly tense as coup rumours spread

The situation in the capital was extremely tense yesterday as coup rumours prompted reaction from anti-government protesters and their rivals. Both camps mobilised their supporters for street fighting, while government and business offices suggested their staff get out early.

Newspaper offices were flooded with phone calls inquiring or giving “tips” about an imminent coup. A source claimed Army chief Anupong Paochinda had a telephone conversation with Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat to exchange ultimatums.

For ongoing links to news coverage, check out:
— Bangkok Pundit (the post Coup speculation: Live Blog may be of interest)
The Nation Newspaper
Bangkok Post newspaper
2Bangkok

Bangkok airport closure: more news and analysis

Some updates on the situation here in Bangkok:

TIME: “Thailand’s Political Crisis Becomes a Global One

With a demure smile and a garland of jasmine, Thailand has always welcomed the world. China and Japan may have screened themselves off for centuries, but the ancient kingdom of Siam, as Thailand was once known, thrived on trade and tourism. Even today, the country depends on visitors lured by golden spires and white-sand beaches.

But on Nov. 25, Thailand abandoned its traditional hospitality when antigovernment agitators swarmed Bangkok’s international airport, grounding one of Asia’s busiest air hubs. “Basically, we are hostages,” said Irish tourist Dermuid McAnoy, expressing almost as much frustration toward the protesters as toward airline staff, who seemed to melt away as soon as the crowds armed with bamboo sticks and iron bars appeared. “Yes, we can leave, but we have no place to go.”(See pictures from the Thai protests.)

Thailand’s airport takeover marked an ominous turning point in a months-long political battle that has morphed from sideshow farce to center-stage emergency. “When you close down the gateway to the country, then you have reached the point of a national crisis,” says Panitan Wattanayagorn, a national-security expert at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. “In fact, because this now affects Thailand’s connection to the wider world, it is becoming an international crisis.”

NYT/IHT: “Another Thai Airport Shut; General Asks Premier to Quit

Protesters forced the closing of Bangkok’s second airport on Thursday, severing the last remaining commercial air links to the Thai capital.

Until Wednesday, airlines were operating domestic flights out of Don Muang airport, Bangkok’s oldest airfield.

Officials are now considering using military airports in the area to accommodate flights diverted from Suvarnabhumi International Airport, which has been closed since Tuesday evening.

Passengers seeking to leave the country must now drive to other international airports in the country. One of them, Chiang Mai, is an eight-hour drive north of Bangkok, and another, Phuket, is nine hours to the south. All air cargo operations in Bangkok have also been suspended.

Newsweek: “Bangkok’s Bizarre Power Struggle

Many Thais believe that a 100-year-old bronze likeness of King Rama V located in downtown Bangkok emits powerful magic. That is why, fully a century after it was cast in Paris, the likeness has become the object of struggle between top government leaders and a band of rightists seeking to oust them. A few weeks ago, anti-government agitator Sondhi Limthongkul, whose People’s Alliance for Democracy has occupied key official buildings for four months in an effort to topple a government he considers illegitimate, accused his opponents of employing wizardry to channel the statue’s protective forces their way. And to reverse that alleged sorcery, he deployed his own mystics to encircle the statue with used sanitary napkins (collected from the PAD’s rank-and-file) to form a shield of menstrual blood.

It’s no secret that Thailand’s democracy is embattled. But what’s less well known is the extent to which its rival camps have fallen back on astrology and mysticism as they seek to best their political foes.

Economist: “Too much or too little? Thailand and the Philippines give Asian democracy a bad name

Thailand’s three-year-old political crisis continued to rage this week, as the increasingly desperate anti-government movement, the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), made a last-ditch effort to provoke violence and force the army to stage another coup. It invaded Bangkok’s main airport, prompting the army chief to call on the government to dissolve parliament and for the PAD itself to cease its protests. The PAD’s thuggish tactics have lost it much of the support it once had among Bangkok’s middle classes. Only a fraction of the promised crowd of 100,000-plus materialised this week for its “final” push to overturn the government.

(Emphasis mine.)

Bangkok’s international airport closed

AP/WSJ: “Protesters Force Bangkok Airport to Suspend Takeoffs

Anti-government demonstrators swarmed Bangkok’s international airport late Tuesday — halting departing flights — as opponents and supporters of Thailand’s government fought running battles in the streets of the city.

Minutes after outbound flights at Suvarnabhumi International Airport were suspended, hundreds of demonstrators — some masked and armed with metal rods — broke through police lines and spilled into the passenger terminal.

Bangkok protests: shots fired

I’m looking out my window at central Bangkok. It’s the early evening, darkness has fallen, and people are heading home from work. Taxis cruise by along the road outside my window. People jog around a scenic park. And motorcycle taxi drivers ferry people about. It’s business as usual.

But sporadic violence has erupted in other parts of this massive city, where anti-government protesters and government supporters have begun battling one another.

Don’t miss this video footage from BBC/Thai PBS: “Thai protesters fire on rivals

Elsewhere:

IHT: “Shots fired as Thai factions clash at airport

Protesters blocking the main highway to Bangkok’s old airport Tuesday fired handguns and beat government supporters with metal rods in the capital, injuring six people, according to video footage shown on Thai television.

Thousands of demonstrators elsewhere across the capital kept the Thai government on the run, blocking the entrance to its temporary offices at the airport and massing in front of army headquarters. The clashes came on the second day of what protesters vowed would be their final push to unseat the government of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat.

On Monday they forced the cancellation of an important session of Parliament and temporarily cut the electricity supply to police headquarters.

TIME: “Viewpoint: Why Thailand’s “Final Showdown” Will Have Plenty of Sequels

Hollywood, the land of ultimate battles and last stands, doesn’t have a monopoly on dramatic endings. On Nov. 24, thousands of anti-government protesters swarmed Thailand’s parliament in what they called — drumroll please — the “final showdown.”

This was, in fact, one of several self-proclaimed final showdowns by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which has long been intent on erasing from government any influence of billionaire populist Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed as Prime Minister in a 2006 army coup. After surrounding Parliament and forcing lawmakers to abandon their work, the PAD moved on to Bangkok’s old airport, where a VIP lounge now serves as the makeshift headquarters of current Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat. A brother-in-law of Thaksin, Somchai was evicted from his real office by the protesters, who have besieged Government House for the past three months.

AP/Washington Post: “Shots fired as contending Thai factions fight

Thai anti-government demonstrators fired shots at government supporters as the rival sides clashed Thursday afternoon on a major highway in the Thai capital of Bangkok.

The fighting began when government supporters began throwing rocks at a truck carrying members of the People’s Alliance for Democracy as it was returning from Bangkok’s old airport, where the group had been holding a rally.

The airport has served as temporary government headquarters since the alliance occupied the prime minister’s office in late August.

The anti-government group responded by firing slingshots and at least two pistols from their truck, and then gave chase to the attackers, who appeared to number several dozen, according to footage shown on Thai PBS television. The gunmen fired about half a dozen shots.

The men on the truck appeared by their dress _ wearing camouflage clothes and yellow armbands _ to be among the so-called guards working for the alliance, who have earned a reputation for aggressive behavior.

Ongoing Bangkok Protests: Monday Update

Here are some links to media coverage of the ongoing protests in Bangkok today:

IHT: “Thai protesters surround parliament

Anti-government demonstrators spread across Bangkok on Monday morning, surrounding the Parliament building and advancing on the police headquarters in what they described as a final push to unseat the government.

Officials canceled a session of Parliament scheduled for Monday after the protesters massed outside the building and the electricity was reportedly cut.

“We have agreed to cancel the session until the situation is back to normal,” Chai Chidchob, the speaker of the House of Representatives, said on Thai television.

By midafternoon, however, demonstrators had pulled back from Parliament. Instead, organizers from the People’s Alliance for Democracy, the group leading the protests, called for supporters to head to Don Muang airport, the Thai capital’s old international airport now used mostly for domestic flights.

AFP: “Thai anti-govt protesters besiege state buildings

Thousands of Thai protesters surrounded parliament Monday and besieged other state buildings in what they said would be their final battle in a six-month street campaign against the government.

Demonstrators began leaving Government House — the prime minister’s cabinet offices which they have occupied since late August — and marched towards parliament a few blocks away in Bangkok’s historic district.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said about 18,000 protesters from the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) had taken to the streets and managed to block all three roads leading to parliament.

CNN: “Protests cancel Thai parliament session

Thousands of anti-government protesters marched on Thailand’s Parliament Monday morning, causing lawmakers to postpone their session fearing violence, said House speaker Chai Chidchob.

Protesters, led by the People’s Alliance for Democracy, also surrounded Bangkok’s police headquarters and the finance ministry building.

The demonstrators brought their own guards who were armed with clubs and long wooden poles in anticipation of clashes with police and pro-government supporters.

BBC: “Thai marchers move on parliament

Thousands of demonstrators have surrounded Thailand’s parliament building, prompting the day’s parliamentary session to be cancelled.

Protesters have been occupying the government compound in the capital, Bangkok, for months.

They say their mass protest is a “final battle” to topple the government which they say is a proxy for former, exiled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The protesters belong to the opposition People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD).

The current Prime Minister, Somchai Wongsawat, who has been attending the Asia Pacific Ecocomic Co-operation (Apec) summit in Peru has said he has no intention of resigning.

AP: “Protesters at Thai Parliament for ‘final showdown’

Thousands of anti-government protesters surrounded Thailand’s Parliament on Monday, forcing legislators to postpone a joint session, and more demonstrators rallied at other government offices in an action billed as their final bid to oust the administration.

Riot police barricaded Parliament with metal barriers and stood guard inside the compound as the protesters, who call themselves the People’s Alliance for Democracy, marched on the building, blocked its gates from the outside and cut electrical wires to create a blackout.

And finally, for some analysis, look no further than this Reuters story: “SCENARIOS — What’s in store for politically riven Thailand?

For ongoing coverage, check out Bangkok’s two English language newspapers, The Nation and the Bangkok Post. And Bangkok Pundit is posting frequently. 2Bangkok has some links, too.