Thai police order airport protesters to disperse

Other News Materials 30 November 2008 22:26 (UTC +04:00)

Thai police on Sunday ordered thousands of anti-government protesters to end their siege of Bangkok's airports, restricting public gatherings and warning offenders would be jailed or fined, Reuters reported.

The stakes rose as thousands of government supporters also rallied in the capital, their first major show of strength since the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) launched its "final battle" on Monday to unseat the government.

Police vowed to keep the two sides apart, but when pro-government forces held a rally in the same part of Bangkok in September, they later marched on PAD lines and fighting ensued.

Suvarnabhumi International airport and the city's domestic hub, Don Muang, have been paralysed since late Tuesday and Thursday respectively by the sieges, stranding 100,000 tourists.

The tourism- and export-driven economy, already hit by the global financial crisis, is reeling. Finance Minister Suchart Thada-Thamrongvech said the crisis could cut economic growth to 2 percent from 4.9 percent in 2007, the Bangkok Post said.

The PAD says this is a necessary price to pay for evicting Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, who they accuse of being a front for his brother-in-law, former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and lives in exile.

"Obviously it hurts the economy, but it's the only way we can push out this government. We have to sacrifice something," Prathan Tandavanitj, 60, told Reuters as he and his wife attended the PAD rally at the airport terminal.

"Somchai is only in power to hand out corruption. He is taking orders from Thaksin," the British-educated architect said.

Thaksin remains hugely popular among Thailand's poor, and thousands of them streamed into Bangkok on Sunday for a rally organised by the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship.

At least 30,000 had gathered by 9 p.m. (2:00 p.m. British time), most wearing the red that is associated with their cause. They carried Thai flags, red flags and red heart signs with Thaksin's picture.

"We love Thaksin. He is our hero," said one banner in the good-natured crowd.