Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat sacked his national police chief on Friday, fuelling speculation that the government is preparing to crackdown on protesters besieging Bangkok’s main airports.
General Patcharawat Wongsuwan, who was moved to an inactive post, had resisted previous orders to crackdown on the street protesters who began a “final battle” to unseat the government on Monday, Thai media reported. “The removal was the result of his performance during this current crisis,” government spokesman Nattawut Saikuar told NBT television a day after Somchai declared a state of emergency to end the crippling airport sieges.
Dozens of riot police with truncheons and shields gathered at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport on Friday, but took no action against the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protesters camped outside the main terminal.
In a televised address, Somchai said the government would use “gentle measures” against the protesters. “Don’t worry. Officials will use gentle measures to deal with them,” Somchai said, and invited human rights and media organisations to observe and film the process.
Earlier, police said they hoped talks with protest leaders would end the siege, but warned they would “take other steps” if they failed.
“We are asking them to allow the airport to resume operations,” Lieutenant-General Suchart Muenkaew, the chief police negotiator, told reporters.
But PAD leaders denied talks would even take place.
“We will not enter in any talks with the police. We will fight until the end,” spokesman Parnthep Pourpongpan told a crowd of supporters.
The siege at Don Muang and Suvarnabhumi International Airport have cut the Thai capital’s air links to the world, leaving thousands stranded and hurting the tourist-dependent economy.
Declaring a state of emergency at the airports from the government stronghold of Chiang Mai, 700 km north of Bangkok, Somchai Wongsawat said the export- and tourism-driven economy could not tolerate further disruption.