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."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine