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Apichart Weerawong/AP
Anti-government protesters sit after
blocking a road leading to parliament
during a mass rally in Bangkok, Thailand.

Escalating Protests in Thailand Could Cripple Tourism

November 30, 2008 11:21 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The latest wave of protests over Thailand’s new prime minister has shut down two airports in Bangkok and could endanger the country’s tourism industry.

Bangkok Airports Shut Down

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Protests in Thailand have left tourists stranded, the airports occupied and led to concerns about one of the country’s largest industries. People’s Alliance for Democracy supporters have occupied Bangkok’s airports, a move that has stranded thousands of travelers and escalated months of disruptive protests.

PAD members want Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat to step down, as does Thailand’s Chamber of Commerce, according to Bloomberg.

“If you can’t manage the country you have to resign. Let the elected parliamentarians form a new government. If that government can’t govern, then let’s go have another election,” the chamber’s vice chairman, Phongsak Assakul, told Bloomberg.

Thai government supporters have held demonstrations of their own, and there has been violence. A grenade injured nearly 50 PAD members on Sunday at the cabinet offices protesters have occupied since the summer. Some hours later, there was a small explosion at one of the airports, injuring two people, Agence France-Presse reported.

The police don’t want to use weapons to move the protesters, AFP reported.

In the meantime, other governments are worried about their own citizens who are stranded in Thailand. Spain and Australia are each sending planes to evacuate their people, the BBC reported. U.K. Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell said his office wouldn’t evacuate Britons but has asked Thailand to “let charter flights land at military airports to help tourists struggling to get home,” according to the BBC.

Background: Protests in Bangkok over new prime minister

Protesters in Thailand led by the antigovernment People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) marched through Bankgok Nov. 24 and successfully stopped the parliament from the convening.

Protesters left the prime minsiter’s cabinet office, where they had been since August, and spread though the city. Police indicate that about 18,000 people participated in the demonstration, and House speaker Chai Chidchob said that parliament would not discuss the legislation.

“The PAD has led a six-month campaign aiming to topple the government elected in December, accusing it of being a proxy of exiled former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a bloodless coup in 2006,” Agence France-Presse reports.

The office of Thailand’s prime minister has been barricaded since late August, and protesters said they weren’t going anywhere until the changes they are demanding for the country’s government are made. The country has experienced considerable chaos lately, as it has changed prime ministers and encountered bitter public arguments over who is best equipped to lead the country.

Rural voters carry considerable clout in Thailand. However, leaders of the antigovernment protest have called rural voters “misguided and ignorant,” according to the International Herald Tribune. Only a small percentage of the population actually lives in Bangkok, but protesters want to change representation in parliament to favor urban and middle-class elites there.

“That’s not democracy,” Sawai Marongrit, a farmer, told the International Herald Tribune. “They can’t win, so they try to find another way to fight. Because if we have an election, they’ll lose again.”

A farmer named Damneun said life in Bangkok is much faster and more pressured than in rural areas. “The people of Isaan are people, too,” Damneun said. “We also eat rice, and we also have an education, and they can’t insult us like this.”

Antigovernment activists decided to delay a demonstration at Thai police headquarters on Oct. 15, because Buddhist ceremonies were continuing for two protestors killed last week, according to My Sinchew.

The Prime Minister at issue, Somchai Wongsawat, is a relative of fugitive former leader Thaksin Shinawatra. On Sept. 17 he replaced Thailand’s ousted former prime minister, Samak Sundaravej. Somchai, the former senior deputy prime minister in Samak’s cabinet, is the brother-in-law of Thaksin.

After Somchai was chosen as prime minister, leaders of the People’s Alliance for Democracy, which took over the Government House in protest of Samak’s rule several weeks ago, said that they do not support Somchai due to his ties with Thaksin. Samak was given the boot for hosting cooking shows while in office.

Related Topics: Thai violence; political advice in the stars

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