Thai protesters overrun airport blockades

More than 100,000 tourists still stranded as the country remains paralysed by five-day siege. Oliver Wright reports from Bangkok

Hundreds of protesters occupying Bangkok's main airport yesterday stormed a police blockade, forcing 150 officers to flee a checkpoint as tensions mounted in the five-day stand-off that has virtually paralysed Thailand. Anti-government demonstrators armed with metal bars, baseball bats and golf clubs overran the cordon around the airport's perimeter, letting down the tyres of four police vans.

In the city itself last night, a grenade was lobbed into a rally of protesters occupying the compound at Government House, injuring 46 people. Suriyasai Katasila, leader of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), the movement behind the protests, blamed government supporters. "I had come down from the stage about 30 minutes before the grenade dropped into a crowded area," he told Taiwanese television.

As protesters fought with the security forces outside the airport, one policeman was grabbed, forcibly put in a vehicle by three of the protesters, and driven away towards an area controlled by the demonstrators. It was unclear whether they intended to hold him hostage.

After the confrontation, about 500 more protesters arrived at the airport in a convoy of trucks. "If they enter the airport, we won't open the door for sure," said a protest leader. "If they enter and fire, we will fire back for sure. If we must die, then we will die."

Later, about 2,000 policeman were deployed for the first time around the main exit and entry points to the airport, raising fears among the protesters inside that they intended to clear the airport by force. One checkpoint on the main road leading to Suvarnabhumi airport, on the outskirts of Bangkok, was manned by about 400 policemen accompanied by 20 navy personnel armed with M-16 rifles. The roadblocks, police said, were meant to prevent more protesters from joining the thousands already inside the terminal building.

The confrontation has taken a heavy toll on Thailand's economy and reputation. Some 100,000 tourists, more than 3,000 of them British, are stranded, while many more who planned to go on holiday to the country cannot get in. Thailand's airport authority said yesterday that Suvarnabhumi would not reopen before tomorrow at the earliest. Some airlines are operating rescue flights out of an old navy base, 90 miles south of Bangkok, to ferry stranded passengers to Malaysia and Singapore. However, this has limited capacity and it would take weeks to move all the trapped passengers. Both the European Union and the US urged protesters to vacate the airports, saying the protests were "seriously damaging" Thailand's image.

The PAD is seeking the overthrow of the current Thai government led by Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat. Mr Somchai, who is the brother-in-law of the former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was elected last December after a military coup in 2006 ousted Mr Thaksin.

But despite PAD's name and its allegation that the government is a puppet of Mr Thaksin, more democracy is not what it seeks. It wants to change Thailand's constitution to reduce the democratic representation of Thailand's poor, the main backers of the ruling People's Power Party (PPP), and increase the number of appointments to parliament.

The group has the backing of powerful forces within Thailand that are upset by what democracy has brought to the country in the shape of Mr Thaksin and his rural backers. Senior army leaders are also broadly sympathetic to PAD, and the group has backers in the royal household. The police, on the other hand, are generally loyal to the government but it is unclear even here how wide the Prime Minister's writ runs. On Friday, he was forced to demote the national police chief for failing to take strong enough action against protesters, and Mr Somchai himself has been unable to return to the capital from the party's northern stronghold of Chiang Mai since the crisis began on Tuesday. But the PAD may have overplayed its hand. Holding Bangkok's new £2.6bn airport hostage is risky because it alienates the business community, its core backer.

Even if PAD wins and there is a military coup that ousts Mr Somchai and the PPP, the crisis is far from over. The PPP could unleash its own mass movement, the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), to confront the PAD – but with similar or even bloodier results.

"We are calling for our supporters nationwide to come out," said Viphutalaeng Pattanaphumethai, a leader of the group. "They have been told to bring their clothes and food because we will be here for a long time."

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game