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Asia-pacific

Protesters free airport as Thai court bans PM

Video by Aurore Cloé DUPUIS

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2008-12-03

Thailand’s Constitutional Court found the ruling coalition guilty of vote fraud and banned Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat from politics for five years. Protesters will allow flights to resume but travellers remain stranded until Dec. 15.

Read more on the origins and goals of the Thai protest movement

 

 

Thailand’s Constitutional Court on Tuesday banned Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat from politics for the next five years after finding the ruling coalition guilty of electoral fraud. The judges also dissolved Somchai’s People Power Party (PPP) and two other parties in the coalition.

Following the announcement, the protesters said they would allow flights to resume. But airport authorities said that the Suvarnabhumi international airport will remain closed at least until 15 December for passenger flights. The first cargo flights resumed on Tuesday.

Members of the anti-government People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) celebrated their victory and could soon vacate Bangkok’s domestic and international airports. Blockaded for a week by the PAD, the closures have cost the country hundreds of millions of dollars and brought the tourist industry to a standstill. Some 250,000 tourists are waiting to leave the country.

FRANCE 24’s Nelson Rand reporting from Bangkok calls the situation “very volatile”. One protester of the PAD was killed and several injured by a grenade attack at the Don Muang domestic airport Monday night.

Pro-government supporters have also been on the streets for the last 48 hours, says Rand. They rallied outside the Constitutional Court on Tuesday morning and greeted the court’s decision with fury.

Government supporters, with a large base in the rural areas, “are convinced that the judicial system is against them”. They had surrounded the court building, forcing a shift in venue. There are now fears of protesters from both sides clashing.

Serirat Prasutanond, managing director of Airports of Thailand PCL (AOT), spoke of the “massive damage” caused to the country. He told Reuters that passenger flights would not restart until anti-government protesters had ended their siege.

‘A civil war’

The court decision follows months of political standoff in Thailand. The PPP won the December 2007 elections with the support of the rural poor, but the PAD accused Somchai of being a pawn for former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, his brother-in-law.

Thousands of middle-class citizens, businessmen and royalists from the PAD have been occupying Government House since August.

It is unsure what will happen next. The ruling coalition has vowed to retain power. Members of Parliament who are not party executives are technically not banned, and are in the process of switching over to a “shell party”.

“As long as the coalition sticks together, they will have enough numbers to simply vote in a new prime minister”, says Rand. This would be the third in a year.

“It now seems that violence cannot be avoided. Some even predict what has been unthinkable for 700 years: a civil war”, said the Bangkok Post in an editorial.

There is also the possibility of the Army taking over in a coup. “The army is under pressure to step in and do something”, said Rand. The army chief having said that if a coup could solve Thailand’s problems, he would do it. The country has had 18 coups since 1932.

Date created : 2008-12-02

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