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Bangkok airport closed, thousands stranded

world Updated: Nov 26, 2008 20:52 IST
PTI
Tailand's main airport closed

Thailand's main airport in Bangkok temporarily suspended operations on Wednesday with all flights cancelled after hundreds of armed anti-government protesters stormed the complex and briefly occupied the control tower leaving thousands of travellers, including Indians, stranded.

The protesters armed with metal rods entered the Swarnabhoomi airport and briefly seized the control tower demanding the flight schedule of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, who is expected to return tonight after attending the APEC Summit in Peru.

However, Wongsawat is likely to land at a military air base near Bangkok.

The airport was a sea of yellow flags as angry protesters of the People's Alliance for Democracy, which is running a four-month-old campaign to topple Wongsawat's government, entered the complex last night demanding his resignation.

As the tower was empty with the airport closed, the protesters left after some time.

"We had to shut down operations temporarily after negotiations failed this morning," Swarnabhoomi Airport's acting director Serirat Prasutanon told reporters.

"It is risky if we let flights depart since they told us they want to stop all activity here," he said.

With the airport being closed suddenly, hundreds of foreign travellers, including Indians, were caught unaware and are stuck there after checking-in to the complex.

It was not known how many flights were cancelled, but AirAsia, Thai and Malaysian Airlines said they have stopped all flights into the Thai capital, while some incoming ones have been diverted to other airports in the country, including Don Muang, Chiang Mai and Phuket.

Malaysian Airlines flights to Phuket, a main tourist attraction, have not been disturbed.

The alliance has accused the Somchai government of being a puppet of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra who is on the run and was seen shopping in Dubai two days back.

Though Thailand has seen coups and protests in the past, the current campaign has taken a violent streak with street clashes, grenade attacks and use of guns by anti-government protesters. Eleven government supporters were injured in the firing.

Early in the day, eight people were injured in separate grenade attacks at Don Muang Airport near the main Suvarnabhumi airport and on a main street in Bangkok.

Eighteen flights were diverted to Bangkok's Don Muang airport, which normally handles domestic traffic and many were rerouted to U Taphao military airport, about 190 kms away, as well as to Hong Kong and Singapore airports, airport officials said.

According to analysts, the protesters were looking for military intervention to unsaddle the government though Army commander Gen. Anupong Paochinda, who has repeatedly ruled out a coup.

The political situation also hit the stock market which went down nearly 2 per cent at 0600 GMT while the Baht traded at 35.29 to one US dollar.

Thailand's finance minister has said the protests could adversely impact the country's tourism industry.