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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thailand's Suvarnabhumi Airport closed

The Airports of Thailand has decided to close the Suvarnabhumi airport after PAD protesters entered passenger terminals and scuffled with airport officials.

The closure, ordered around 9 pm, involved stopping out-bound flights. In-bound planes were still being allowed to land Tuesday night, but can be diverted to key provincial airports if situations deteriorated.

The order was issued by AOT chief Serirat Prasutanont. He made the decision out of safety concern after PAD protesters penetrated some passenger areas.

"The PAD members are now scattered around. I don't know who's who, or who's PAD and who's not," a senior AOT official told The Nation at around 10.30 pm.

How long the closure will last is not known.

The People's Alliance for Democracy threatened earlier Tuesday night to close down the Suvanabhumi Airport completely after several thousand PAD protesteers blocked an entrance earlier in the day and caused turmoil for numerous passengers.

As PAD protesters moved to surround Suvarnabhumi Airport in the afternoon when the plane carrying Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat was scheduled to land, the arrival of his plane from Peru was announced to have been delayed due to technical problems.

The estimated time of arrival has not been confirmed. Some sources said he could be arriving Wednesday evening.

"We have tried to pressure the government for more than 50 hours but nothing has happened, so we need to step up our campaign by closing the airport to tell the world problems Thailand is facing," said PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul at Government House Tuesday night.

Before the closure order, the Airports of Thailand was Tuesday night mobilizing its officials to Suvarnabhumi to make sure no key operations will be disrupted. Travellers still can access the terminals through Bang Na -Trad highway, but the motory-way entrance has been crowded with protesters.

Many travellers have already suffered inconvenience. Arrival passengers were stranded Tuesday night and the AOT officials were trying to facilitate their transport out of the airport. AOT has also issued a statement pleading with the PAD.

AOT also has provided a hotline number for inquiries: 02-1321882 02-1321888

However, an AOT official said the lines soon became jammed.

It was a big political gamble by the PAD, which has seen its support declining lately because of controversial, provocative moves. Its die-hard following, however, has been galvanised by deaths and injuries of PAD members since October 7, when police fired tear gas at protesters marching to Parliament.

Somchai's plane failed to take off from Lima, Peru where he attended the APEC summit after the hydraulic lock of the plane's wheels failed to unlock.

The technical repair was first expected to make Somchai's flight eight hours behind the schedule, making Somchai's arrival time to be around 7 pm.

It was later reported that the repair work would be finished sooner so Somchai would arrive at 5pm.

Somchai was scheduled to arrive in Bangkok at around noon on Wednesday. He is now expected to arrive at 7pm instead.

The Public Relations Department said its reporter, Saksit Pradabsilp, reported from Peru that a hydraulic lock of the plane's wheel would not unlock, thus, preventing the plane from taking off.

While PAD Tuesday split in groups and stage a rally to block a Cabinet meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Chaovarat Chanweerakul, as caretaker prime minister, still man?aged to have a meeting with Interior Minister Kowit Watana and PM's Office Minister Supon Fongngam at the Public Relations Department headquarters at 9.30 am.

Police and military representatives also attend?ed the meeting.

Chaovarat said after the meeting that the police had assured they could handle the situation. They would be patient and would not use violence.

Moreover, they would ask PAD to vacate the government's temporary office at Don Mueang Airport but would not "seize/ take back" the office, otherwise, bloodshed could erupt.

Chaovarat said he would leave it to Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat to talk to the PAD leaders himself.

They were looking for a new place to hold the Cabinet meeting when the PAD blocked the Supreme Command headquarters, he said.

Meanwhile, a source who joined the meeting and asked not to be named, said police had told Chaovarat they would be able to control the situation as PAD protesters mainly demonstrated at Government House and Don Mueang Airport. Being left to rally as they wanted, demonstrators are likely to be exhausted on Wednesday with half of them likely to leave the rally.

Security agencies would then wait until only a few protesters were left before taking action, the source said.

Somchai's delayed arrival could be the reason for the cancellation of the scheduled Cabinet meeting, the source said.

Culture Minister Worawat Uaapinyakul said PAD should care more about the country and stop besieging government agencies' offices as it would hurt the country. PAD's attempt was just power struggle, he said.

"The (PAD's) behaviours are like bandits'. They are unacceptable. Why don't they respect democracy or listen to people's voice? Investors are with?drawing nowadays as they don't know what is happening in Thailand," Worawat said.

The government has been forced not to use its power, Worawat said. However, it would continue working according to the democratic system. However, it would have to discuss where its office would be.

He said the Cabinet would be able to use many other places as its office. However, the military should protect its dignity by not allowing PAD to siege government offices.

Worawat said he would propose to Somchai to set up an office in Chiangmai as the people there would welcome the government.

A government source, who asked not to be named, said the Secretariat of the Prime Minister had not prepared any office to replace the Don Mueang Airport as it needed to discuss the issue with the premier first.

The source said it was time the prime minister exercised the law against the PAD. Otherwise, PAD would lay siege to any government offices.

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