As ‘Bangkok shutdown’ approaches, US Embassy advises keeping cash, food on hand

In a security message today, the US Embassy in Bangkok said:

This is to advise and update U.S. citizens residing in or traveling to Thailand that political activists intend to hold simultaneous mass rallies at key intersections and other locations in Bangkok beginning on Monday, January 13th. The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok and U.S. Consulate General in Chiang Mai will remain open for consular services.

The announced January 13 mass rally sites are at major intersections throughout Bangkok, including Asok-Sukhumvit, Pathumwan, Lumpini, Victory Monument, Ratchaprasong, Lat Prao, and Silom and at the Chaeng Watthana government complex. Protests may occur in other areas with little prior notice. Subsequent events are unpredictable, although protest leaders have declared their plan to continue with rallies after January 13.

Protests are expected to occur elsewhere in Thailand, including near Chiang Mai University scheduled for Sunday afternoon, January 12.

While protests have been generally peaceful over the last two months, some have resulted in injury and death. Even demonstrations that are meant to be peaceful can turn confrontational, and can escalate into violence without warning. You should avoid areas of demonstrations, and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings or protests. Be alert and aware of your surroundings and pay attention to local news and media reports.

These demonstrations can result in significant traffic disruptions and delays. When they occur, and especially on January 13, you should allow extra time when travelling throughout the city or to airports. Consider public transportation alternatives.

We advise you to plan ahead. It is prudent to ensure you have a week’s supply of cash, keep your mobile communications devices charged, and stock a two week supply of essential items such as food, water, and medicine.

Meanwhile, Thai Airways had this to say yesterday:

The Wall Street Journal has more details on what demonstrators are calling “Bangkok Shutdown”:

Mr. Suthep, who had been leading anti-government protests since November, said the shutdown will kick off Monday morning but has not specified when his battle against Ms. Yingluck will end.

Thai authorities predict that the protests will affect at least one million commuters and more than one hundred transit routes, especially in inner Bangkok.

City officials have instructed about 140 government schools to close on Monday.

The Ministry of Transport has urged Bangkok residents to use public transportation, including the city’s elevated train, subway, buses and boats, to avoid getting stuck in gridlock caused by the rallies and blockades. To relieve traffic congestion, the ministry said it will provide free parking in at least 30 locations so commuters can connect to public transportation. The city’s bus, boat, and train systems will also run more frequently to accommodate an increase in passenger numbers, which are expected to nearly double.

Meanwhile, there’s this news today:

Red shirt protests in Bangkok: day one

red_shirts.jpg

Thailand’s anti-government red shirt protesters began gathering here in Bangkok today. All in all, it was a surprisingly quiet day.

The demonstrations, as we know, are expected to culminate with — red shirts say — a protest comprising one million participants on Sun., March 14. Many observers, however, doubt that the reds will be able to muster such a large showing.

Many people here in Bangkok expected the day to be chaotic. Businesses closed early. Schools cancelled classes. And while there were small demonstrations in some parts of city, it was largely a day like any other in central Bangkok.

But more and more demonstrators are expected to begin arriving in Bangkok tomorrow (Sat. the 13th).

This Bangkok Post story summarizes the day’s events. And the Nation has some images here. For some analysis, there’s this story from Reuters. And here’s some context from AP. Meanwhile, Global Voices has this extensive post with background info and links to several online resources.

Stay tuned…

(Image source: Bangkok Post.)

(New) anti-government protests in Bangkok

Here are some recent stories about the newest wave of anti-government protests1 here in Bangkok (the most recent is the first story):

AFP: “Thai protesters march on foreign ministry

Red-clad protesters marched on Thailand’s foreign ministry Wednesday, hours after the prime minister evaded demonstrators besieging his offices for a second day in their bid to unseat the government.

Up to 10,000 supporters of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra dressed in their trademark crimson shirts surrounded Bangkok’s Government House compound Tuesday demanding fresh elections, with many camping outside overnight.

AP: “Thousands demand dissolution of Thai parliament

Thousands of protesters surrounded the prime minister’s office Tuesday demanding Thailand’s parliament be dissolved and new elections held, the latest challenge to the two-month old coalition government.

The rally by demonstrators allied with exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra came three days before Thailand is to host the annual summit of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The crowd swelled to about 20,000 people as dusk approached, police said.

VOA: “Former Thai PM Supporters Hold Rally in Bangkok

Government opponents and supporters of Thailand’s former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, launched a rally by blockading the government’s main administrative building and calling for Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to resign. The rallies appear to be part of a new strategy by Thaksin supporters to weaken the Abhisit government that came to power in December.

  1. The term “anti-government,” of course, doesn’t mean what it did a few months ago. Before PM Abhisit assumed office, that phrase was applied to the PAD protesters. Now it’s used to describe the so called “red shirts” — the UDD and other Thaksin supporters. []

Politics in Thailand: battle for the parliament

WSJ: “Rival Thai Parties Vie to Form Government

Thailand’s rival political parties are racing to form the country’s next government this week, with the opposition Democrat Party claiming it has won the support of enough legislators to form a ruling coalition — a move its leaders say could ease the political turmoil that has mounted in recent months.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said Saturday his party had won the support of as many as 250 members of parliament, more than the 224 seats required to have a majority in the Thai legislature. Party spokesman Buranaj Smutharaks said Sunday the Democrats had recruited 260 lawmakers for a new coalition.

If the Democrats succeed in creating and maintaining a new coalition with a majority of seats, 44-year-old Mr. Abhisit is likely to be chosen as Thailand’s next prime minister.

However, it’s not certain Mr. Abhisit and the Democrats can deliver this majority. Followers of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra also are trying to form a government, reigniting a battle for control of Thailand, one of Southeast Asia’s largest economies and major production hub for multinationals such as Toyota Motor Co. and Ford Motor Co.

AP: “Thai opposition may take power, army’s aid hinted

Thailand’s main opposition party called for an emergency parliament session Monday to prove its majority and form the next government — a surprising reversal of fortunes that some suggested was engineered by the politically potent military.

Democrat Party Secretary-General Suthep Thuagsuban filed a formal request for convening Parliament to demonstrate it has the support of enough legislators to form the next government and end months of political paralysis.

This Southeast Asian nation has been gripped by political chaos for three months, with protesters seizing the prime minister’s office and overrunning the capital’s two airports for about a week in a bid to topple the government, accusing it of being a proxy of fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Bangkok airport to reopen

Here’s the latest news from Bangkok:

– Yesterday (Tues.) a court ruled that Thailand’s governing party must disband. The prime minister has now been forced from office. (Demonstrators had said they wouldn’t leave the airport until the PM quits.)

– Anti-government protesters announced yesterday that they’ll cease their protests at the international airport today (Wed.). (Demonstrations at the domestic airport, Don Mueang, continue.)

– Local media reports says flights will resume at Bangkok’s international airport as early as today, though it’s unclear when normal operations will resume. Some 300,000 foreign travelers are still stranded here.

Following are some media reports with more info:

Nation: “THAI resumes flights at Suvarnabhumi

Thai Airways International is flying six special flights from Suvarnabhumi on Wednesday, the first since the airport was shut down on November 25.

AP: “Thai airports reopening after PM ousted by court

Victorious anti-government protesters lifted their siege of Bangkok’s two airports Wednesday while leaders of the ousted government named a caretaker prime minister to lead the politically chaotic kingdom.

The country’s immediate crisis, which virtually severed Thailand’s air links to the outside world for a week, appeared to be over and the People’s Alliance for Democracy said it was ending six months of daily anti-government protests. But the alliance warned it would be on the streets again if a new government tried to return to its past policies.

“The partial opening can be as soon as today,” said Serirat Prasutanond, acting president for Airports of Thailand Pcl, the operator. “It will likely be outbound flights from Thai Airways because they have aircraft parked here.”

Nation: “Suvarnabhumi to reopen in 1-2 weeks

Airports of Thailand Plc expects to reopen Suvarnabhumi Airport in 1 week at the earliest and 2 weeks at the latest, said the company’s acting president Serirat Prasutanond.

Other stories:

AFP: “Well-heeled tourists flee Thailand on private jets

As most grumbling holiday-makers wait frustrated in hotels after airport-based protests stranded them in Thailand, the wealthy are simply slipping out of the “Land of Smiles” by private jets.

Charter airline companies are seeing their bookings soar despite the enormous cost, after demonstrators seized Bangkok’s main Suvarnabhumi international airport and the smaller domestic hub Don Mueang last week.

Protesters began clearing out of the airport on Wednesday after the premier was forced from office by a court, but it will take weeks to clear the backlog of an estimated 350,000 people who missed flights.

For some perspective on what the protests mean for Thailand’s future, check out this WSJ story:

Thailand Protests End as Prime Minister Is Ousted

Antigovernment protesters promised to end a crippling weeklong siege of Thailand’s main airports after a court ruling forced Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat to step down and disbanded his government’s key parties for electoral fraud.

The pledge to lift the airport blockades comes as a relief for the more than 300,000 desperate international travelers stranded in Thailand, which has suffered severe damage to its economy and its reputation as a global tourist destination.

But the political stalemate that has paralyzed the Southeast Asian country of 65 million for months is no closer to resolution — a troubling omen for it as well as some other developing countries around the world.

Thailand’s fundamental problem — mirrored to differing degrees in China, India and other emerging economies — is a seemingly unbridgeable divide between relatively well-off urbanites, including many of the protesters at Bangkok’s airports, and millions of poorer rural citizens who have long felt left out of the country’s power structure.

And this Economist story includes some details on the political landscape and what may come next:

Ousting the prime minister“:

In the end it was Thailand’s Constitutional Court that sent the prime minister packing. Somchai Wongsawat resigned on Tuesday December 2nd after his party and two others were dissolved for electoral fraud. But the noose around his neck was the week-long seizure of Bangkok’s two airports by opposition protesters, who have plunged the capital into chaos and sown fear of wider unrest. They may leave now, allowing Bangkok’s airport to resume flights in time for a busy tourist season, and to start clearing a backlog of over 300,000 stranded foreign tourists. But the political upheaval is not over, and damage to Thailand’s battered economy and international reputation may well continue.

(All emphasis mine.)

For ongoing news, check out:
The Nation
The Bangkok Post
Bangkok Pundit
2Bangkok

And finally, newley.com has been receiving a lot of traffic over the last week as folks search for updates on the airport closure. A reminder: if you’d like to receive updates when I post here, you can subscribe to my RSS feed. In addition, I’ve been posting shorter snippets on Twitter here.

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.