Thai protesters lift airport siege, flights due in

Thailand's main international airport should be back to normal in two days, its general manager said on Wednesday as anti-government protesters packed up and left at the end of an eight-day blockade, reported Reuters.

Serirat Prasutanond said a Thai Airways domestic flight from the southern island of Phuket should land at 3:00 a.m. EST, the first plane to arrive since the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protesters overran the $4 billion site on November 25.

"I have strong confidence that everything will be OK and will back to normal in two days," Serirat told Reuters as trucks ferried the yellow-shirted PAD demonstrators from the terminal.

He said the first international flight would land around midnight on Thursday.

Serirat said in a statement on Tuesday the airport would be closed until at least December 15 due to the need for security and computers systems checks.

The PAD, led by a group of royalist businessman, academics and activists, formally marked the end of their occupation by singing the king's anthem before they left.

The protesters decided to lift their siege after the courts dismissed the government of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, whom the PAD accuse of being a puppet of his brother-in-law, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup.

No one expects Somchai's departure to provide more than short-term respite to the wider political crisis that has been dragging on for three years.

Thaksin allies still dominate parliament and are expected to elect a new prime minister from among their number on December 8 -- the third prime minister in as many months.

Cargo flights started to leave Suvarnabhumi on Tuesday but the occupation has dealt an enormous blow to tourism and the export sector, already reeling from the global economic crisis.

Weerasak Kowsurat, the outgoing minister for tourism in Somchai's government, estimated around 230,000 foreign tourists remained stranded on Wednesday, but a steady flow of planes was leaving from other airports outside the capital.

"If the PAD gives back both airports, this should help speed up the process to get people home even faster," he told Reuters.

"These tourists left stranded should not have to wait for the official reopening of the airport, which is probably going to take another week. At this point, I think, what's important is to get them home as soon as possible," he added.

Finance Minister Suchart Thada-Thamrongvech said this week the economy would struggle to grow at all next year.

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