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."

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
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

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?