Court ruling adds to confusion for stranded Britons

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The Independent Online

Thousands of British tourists stranded in Thailand faced chaos and confusion today as a court banned the country's ruling party.

The father of a British tourist stuck in the resort of Phuket said his daughter had told him how fights had broken out among thousands of tourists besieging a military airfield.

Some Britons were escaping from the strife-torn country on relief flights which were taking them to London via Hong Kong, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur.

But many faced a battle to get away, with the UK not actually laying on any extra flights but merely liaising with foreign airlines to get as many Britons away as possible.

Anti-government protesters have sparked the travel chaos in Thailand by occupying and forcing the closure of the main Bangkok international airport.

It was not immediately clear what would be the effect of today's ruling by Thailand's Constitutional Court that the main ruling party be dissolved and the prime minister and 36 party executives be banned from politics for five years.

One of the stranded Britons is advertising agency worker Nadine Howard, from Hampstead, north west London, who is stuck in the Thai resort of Phuket at the end of a two-week holiday with her boyfriend.

She had been travelling with Taiwanese carrier EVA Air but was unable to get a flight from Phuket to Bangkok to get back to London.

Her father Philip Howard said today: "They have had to pay £1,000 to get a flight from Phuket to Hong Kong and then they are hoping to fly back to London from there.

"Neither she nor I could get through to EVA Air so I went to their headquarters in London. The person we spoke to there was very helpful, but they were overwhelmed. It's impossible to realise the scale of the problem. The airline was trying to sort out travel for thousands of people stuck in Thailand."

Mr Howard went on: "Nadine told me of a military airfield where thousands of people were waiting for flights. Locals told her not to go there as fights have broken out. Apparently the place is like a refuge camp."

Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell said major airlines including Qantas and Emirates were laying on extra flights with UK Government support to help people stranded in Thailand get home.

An Emirates flight leaving Chiang Mai airport last night was expected to carry well over 100 British nationals on board.

In a statement released by the Foreign Office, Mr Rammell said: "We are continuing to work with our international partners to support efforts to defuse the unrest in Thailand.

"Several thousand British travellers remain stranded in Bangkok. Our priorities are to ensure their immediate welfare and to find ways of ending their uncertainty and helping them get home.

"The only way such large numbers of people can leave Bangkok for their homes is through co-operation between governments, airlines and tour providers: we need a systematic approach not a symbolic one.

"Our embassy team on the ground is providing support to British travellers and looking after their welfare. Extra staff are on their way to help this effort.

"We have talked to all the major airlines and tour operators with large numbers of British ticket holders. They are working with our support to provide additional flights from alternative airports.

"Qantas are now laying on additional flights from Phuket including for alliance partners British Airways. Emirates are also laying on extra flights."

Gulf Air, Malaysian Airways, Thai Airways, Cathay Pacific and Silk Airways are also expected to provide additional flights, mainly out of Phuket.