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Protesters Flood Thailand's Main Airport, Shutting Down Flights
(Tim Johnston, Washington Post, November 25, 2008)
Activists trying to bring down Thailand's government seized key parts of the capital's main airport Tuesday, forcing authorities to cancel all flights and dealing another blow to the country's reeling tourist industry. . . . "We want to seize the airport to show the media that the prime minister cannot control anything in Thailand," Suwan Kansanoh, a retired government official who was among the protesters, told journalists by phone. . . . The airport raid was the culmination of two days of demonstrations billed by the anti-government People's Alliance for Democracy as the "final mass rally" to oust the "killer government." . . . The government, led by Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, has refused to resign, insisting that the overwhelming mandate it won in elections held at the end of last year still stands. . . . At the core of the dispute lies the legacy of Thaksin Shinawatra, the controversial telecommunications billionaire and former prime minister who was removed from office in a military coup in 2006 amid allegations of corruption and cronyism. . . . Thaksin inspires visceral hatred among PAD supporters, who believe that the current government is his proxy. Somchai is the former prime minister's brother-in-law. . . . But as last year's elections proved, Thaksin and his allies still have the support of Thailand's rural poor -- a constituency he and his successors have courted with cheap health care and subsidized loans. . . . Although PAD leaders had made bold predictions about this week's demonstrations, the turnout, at about 20,000 people, has been smaller than expected, and a threatened strike by state enterprise workers caused little disruption. Political analysts say that despite their success in disrupting operations at the airport, the movement is struggling to maintain momentum. . . . "The reality is that they can't raise the numbers on the streets to force anybody to do anything," said Chris Baker, a Bangkok-based political scientist who has written a number of books on Thailand's troubles. . . . The past two days had been mostly peaceful. But there was an outbreak of violence on Tuesday night when PAD guards fired on opponents. The shooters were apparently responding to pro-government protesters who allegedly threw stones at a car carrying PAD members returning from another rally. Local media reported that 11 people were injured. . . . Although it has managed to paralyze the political process for the past six months, the anti-government PAD has had little success in articulating an alternative vision to end Thailand's political stalemate. . . . Gen. Anupong Paojinda, the army chief, said there would be no coup, even if violence broke out. . . . "The armed forces have agreed that a coup cannot solve our country's problems, and we will try to weather the current situation and pass this critical time," Anupong told reporters in Bangkok. . . . Over the past two days, the police have taken a deliberately nonconfrontational line, falling back as the PAD protesters, many of them armed with iron bars, wooden clubs or sling shots, advanced. The police tactics not only minimized the possibility of clashes, they also allowed the protesters to spread so widely that the demonstration became diffuse and directionless. . . . There are also economic pressures. Thailand is starting to feel the pain of the global slowdown, and many here worry that political paralysis is doing lasting damage to the country's ability to counter the mounting economic threat. The closure of Bangkok's new Suvarnabhumi Airport will be another blow to a tourist industry already badly damaged by previous violent clashes between protesters and police.



posted by Lorenzo 11:31 AM


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