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

Published by Newley

Hi. I'm Newley Purnell. I cover technology and business for The Wall Street Journal, based in New Delhi. I use this site to share my stories and often blog about the books I read, tech trends, sports, travel, and our dog Ginger. Join the growing group of readers who get my weekly email newsletter.

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