Siege Over, Air Traffic Resumes in Thailand | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 03.12.2008
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Siege Over, Air Traffic Resumes in Thailand

Flights have begun landing in Thailand as thousands of anti-government protestors ended their occupation of Bangkok's two airports, lifting a week-long siege that crippled the country's tourism and exports sectors.

Thai Airways flight lands at Suvarnabhumi International Airport

The first flight since protests closed the international airport landed on Wednesday

A Thai Airways International domestic flight from Phuket landed at Suvarnabhumi International Airport on Wednesday, Dec. 3, after the protesters from the People's Alliance for Democracy ended their siege.

The PAD had announced late Tuesday night that it would lift its sieges of Suvarnabhumi Airport and Don Mueang, the old airport, after achieving its political objective of forcing Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat out of his post, and blocking constitutional amendments that might have led to a return to politics of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, their nemesis.

"Long live the king"

PAD core-leader Chamlong Srimuang led the exodus from Suvarnabhumi before noon, after paying homage to a portrait of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej and shouting "long live the king."

People's Alliance for Democracy protesters celebrate at the besieged Suvarnabhumi international airport in Bangkok, Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2008.

PAD protesters celebrated sweeping political decisions

King Bhumibol celebrates his 81st birthday on Friday. The pro-monarchy PAD had pledged to end its standoff with the government before the king's birthday.

Suvarnabhumi will be partially reopened to international flights by Dec. 4 at midnight, said Serirat Pasutanong, acting president of the Airports of Thailand, the state authority responsible for airport management.

Thai International has announced plans to resume international flights from the airport immediately after midnight on Dec. 5.

Many airlines have had to shift their operations to Thailand's U-Tapao Air Base, 150 kilometers (93 miles) southeast of Bangkok, to evacuate more than 200,000 passengers stranded by the airport closures.

"We will continue to use U-Tapao until Suvarnabhumi is completely operational," said Serirat.

Foreign tourists wait in a queue along with thousands of others for a flight out of Thailand at the U-Tapao airport about 100 miles (160 km) south of Bangkok.

Some tourists were stuck in Thailand for a week

In what they termed their "final battle" to topple the government, the PAD raided Suvarnabhumi Airport on Nov. 25 and Don Mueang on Nov. 28, completely cutting the capital off from civilian air traffic.

Major financial losses

Industry sources estimated that the country lost more than $86 million (109 million euros) a day from undelivered cargo. Losses to the kingdom's tourism industry, one of the leading sources of foreign exchange, have been estimated at near $3 billion in the long term.

While the PAD, a loose coalition of groups united in their hatred of fugitive Thaksin and the corrupt politics he came to represent, have claimed a victory, it remains unclear if they have succeeded in their ultimate goal of keeping Thaksin and his cronies out of politics.

On Tuesday, the Constitutional Court dissolved the ruling People Power Party and two of its coalition partners -- Chart Thai and Matchimathipatya -- and banned 33 of their executive members from politics for five years.

Search for new candidates

The verdict automatically forced Somchai, Thaksin's brother-in-law and a top party executive, to step down as prime minister along with nearly half his cabinet. Thailand is now under a caretaker cabinet until parliament is reconvened Monday to elect a new premier.

Tourists stranded in Bangkok airports get leg massages

Some stranded tourists managed to enjoy their stay

The remaining elected members of parliament are expected to join new parties, already set up in anticipation of the dissolutions.

Controversial politician Chalerm Yoobamrung, a nonexecutive member of the former PPP, has been named as a likely candidate for the premiership as he is loyal to Thaksin.

But such an appointment might bring the PAD back to the streets.

PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul warned Tuesday night that protests might resume if the new government tries to return a "Thaksin proxy" to power.

"The PAD will return if another proxy government is formed or anyone tries to amend the constitution or the law to whitewash some politicians or to subdue the monarchy's royal authority," Sondhi said.

PAD's anti-government protests

The PAD has been leading anti-government protests in Bangkok since May 25, when the government initiated moves to amend the 2007 constitution which were interpreted as efforts to reinstate Thaksin and his political allies.

Thaksin, a billionaire former telecommunications tycoon who was prime minister from 2001 to 2006, rose to unprecedented popularity in Thailand on the back of populist policies that secured the support of much of the country's poor -- the vast majority of the electorate.

His near-monopoly of political power, along with his undermining of constitutional checks and balances, were ended by a military coup on September 19, 2006.

In October, the Supreme Court for Political Office Holders found Thaksin guilty of abuse of power and sentenced him to two years in jail, but despite the verdict Thaksin has vowed to return from self-exile to rejoin Thailand's political fray.

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