- The Washington Times - Friday, November 28, 2008

BANGKOK | Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat clamped a state of emergency on Bangkok’s two main airports Thursday and ordered the navy, air force and police to remove protesters who barricaded thousands of passengers from arriving or departing.

Mr. Somchai announced no timetable for clearing the airports and indicated that security forces would first try to negotiate with them to stop “holding the country hostage.”

“I need to do something to restore peace and order,” he said in a televised address.

Angry, frightened and weary international and Thai passengers languished in hotels, after anti-government protesters seized Suvarnabhumi International Airport on Tuesday.

Wearing royalist yellow shirts, the noisy protesters on Wednesday also took control of Don Muang, Bangkok’s smaller, former international airport, which serves some domestic routes.

Unwilling to arrest them, the military and police passively allowed thousands of protesters to swagger into the new, glass-encased, futuristic international airport, brandishing clubs and shouting for Mr. Somchai’s resignation.

Their occupation has destroyed this Southeast Asian, Buddhist nation’s image as a tourist-friendly holiday paradise. It also prevented business people, officials, students, families and others from flying abroad, including Americans trying to return home for Thanksgiving.

A government spokesman was quoted by wire reports as saying that the economy could lose at least $2.8 billion if the sieges drag on for a month, and reduce economic growth for the year to 4 percent from a current estimate of 4.5 percent, already a seven-year low.

The shutdown blocked most of Thailand’s imports and exports by air, including industrial items, spare parts, medicine, food, agricultural goods and other perishables.

Medical teams were reportedly rushing to both airports to prepare for a possible confrontation Friday. The protesters earlier boasted they would not leave the airports until Mr. Somchai resigned.

Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a military coup in 2006, and some fear that Mr. Somchai’s fate could the same.

The People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which has led protests for months, does not want democratic elections. The party prefers a largely appointed government, because elections repeatedly brought Mr. Thaksin and his allies to power. Mr. Somchai became prime minister in September, after another Thaksin ally stepped down because of a conflict of interests.

“The anti-government protesters could be making the same mistake as Napoleon, who decided to invade Russia and suffered a devastating defeat,” said Thanong Khanthong, editor of the Nation newspaper. “Napoleon’s armies could seize the territories, but they could not occupy them for long.”

Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a political science professor at Chulalongkorn University, was more blunt.

“Thai airports are controlled by the Thai military. It is obvious that the Thai military, who staged an illegal coup in 2006, have quietly supported” the protests, he said.

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