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Anti-Govt protesters wounded near Thai airport

world Updated: Nov 26, 2008 11:12 IST
Martin Petty
Martin Petty
Reuters
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Several anti-government protesters blockading Bangkok's international airport were wounded by a bomb on Wednesday, protest leaders said, as chaos ruled inside the terminal and all flights were halted.

Supporters of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) had stormed Suvarnabhumi Airport, hub for Thailand's lucrative tourist industry, on Tuesday in a dramatic escalation of its six-month campaign to oust Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat.

A PAD spokesman said a bomb was thrown at a group of its supporters outside the terminal in the early hours of Wednesday, injuring four people.

Police could not confirm this but the Nation newspaper said on its website three explosions had been heard outside the terminal and the PAD said its people had also been the target of at least one blast in a separate part of the capital.

Reports were confusing, the Nation said, adding that at least 12 people appeared to have been injured by four bombs.

Thousands of passengers slept overnight at the $4 billion airport, many complaining terminal and airline staff disappeared when the PAD demonstrators, dressed in their movement's yellow shirts, invaded the airport late on Tuesday.

"We came here and we saw all these people in yellow. We thought they were football fans. Now we're just waiting," said a Dutchman who gave his name as Mark.

Suvarnabhumi is one of Asia's busiest airports and gateway for nearly 15 million visitors to Thailand each year.

Police did nothing to prevent the occupation by the protesters, passengers said, and barely any officers were visible early on Wednesday. Hundreds of demonstrators slept in the terminal overnight but resumed their protests outside at dawn.

American Kevin Harris said he had arrived for an early morning flight only to find people sleeping on baggage conveyor belts and benches all over the terminal.

"I just want to get home for Thanksgiving, but it's not going to happen. We have no idea what's happening here. This isn't the fault of the airport but it's their responsibility to deal with it," he added.

No flights had left since around 4 a.m. (2100 GMT on Tuesday), people at the airport said. Some staff were present at the airport information desk at 7 a.m. on Wednesday.

Half the flights on information boards had 'cancelled' beside them but others were not leaving at their scheduled- time.

Singapore Airlines said it was canceling all flights to and from Bangkok on Wednesday.

One target of the PAD demonstrators was the flight bringing Somchai home from a foreign trip.

Somchai was due to return on Wednesday from an Asia-Pacific summit in Peru but a government spokesman said he would not land at Suvarnabhumi. The Nation said his plane would land at the northern city of Chiang Mai and then he would fly to Bangkok to chair a special cabinet meeting.

"I will get off the plane wherever it lands," the Bangkok Post quoted him as saying from Peru.

Gunfire broke out on the streets of Bangkok on Tuesday as armed PAD members opened fire on government supporters. At least 11 people were hurt, officials said.

The alliance accuses Somchai of being a puppet of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, his brother-in-law.

Thaksin, who was accused of corruption and authoritarianism while in office, is living overseas after skipping bail to avoid graft charges following his overthrow by the army in 2006.

The movement has the backing of Bangkok's urban middle classes and elite, while Thaksin and the government have the support of rural voters and the urban poor.

Worsening bloodshed could provoke another coup but army chief General Anupong Paochinda said on Tuesday that military intervention would not resolve the fundamental political rifts.

(Additional reporting by Nopporn Wong-Anan; Writing by Alan Raybould; Editing by Jerry Norton)