Nov 26, 2008

World - Thailand;Army urges PM to quit,tell protesters to vacate airport

BANGKOK: Thailand's powerful army chief stepped in to end the siege of Bangkok's main airport Wednesday, telling the prime minister to call new Police walk through Bangkok airport to curb anti-govt protests. (AFP Photo)

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elections and mobs of anti-government protesters to disperse.

General Anupong Paojinda denied he was staging a coup, but with Bangkok's airport and main government offices now in the control of protesters, and lawlessness spreading, he said premier Somchai Wongsawat should hold new polls.

"We will send him a letter to inform that he must dissolve the house and call new elections," the general told a news conference after an urgent meeting of military and business leaders to address the deepening crisis.

"This is not a coup," he said. "The government still has full authority. These points are the way to solve the problem which has plunged the country into a deep crisis."

"As army chief, if I launch a coup the problems would be solved once and for all. But there would be a lot of consequences including the international reaction."

Somchai is currently en route home from Peru, and will be greeted by escalating chaos led by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which is determined to topple his government.

Protesters on Wednesday tightened their grip on Bangkok's international airport, where two people were hurt in a blast and thousands of travellers left stranded on the third day of PAD's renewed protest campaign.

"The PAD must disperse immediately from every place they occupy," the general said.

The alliance launched its campaign in May, accusing Somchai's government of being a corrupt puppet of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled in a 2006 coup and remains in exile after being convicted in absentia for corruption.

Grenade attacks elsewhere in the city deepened the sense of anarchy after demonstrators stormed the showpiece airport on Tuesday night.

Suvarnabhumi Airport — a three-billion-dollar hub for travel throughout Southeast Asia — was shut on Wednesday, with airport director Saereerat Prasutanont saying 3,000 passengers had been stranded and 402 flights cancelled.

Protesters refused to negotiate and earlier said Somchai must resign before they would end their occupation and six-month campaign, which has caused massive disruption to key state institutions including parliament.

Angry, tired and hungry passengers had earlier began leaving Suvarnabhumi on buses provided by airport authorities, after many spent the night sleeping on baggage carousels and at check-in desks.

They complained that they had had nothing to eat or drink since the protesters burst into the two-year-old terminal late Tuesday, and that no one was giving them information about what was going on.

"It was very unclear. Thai Airways staff said we need to vacate the airport, go get your bags and get out," said traveller Andrea Neil from Australia.

By late afternoon, most of the passengers had left. And as they trickled out many of the 8,000 PAD demonstrators who had been rallying outside entered the terminal, setting up makeshift food stalls and floor mats.

The PAD is a loose coalition comprising royalists, Bangkok's old elite and the middle class.

The government has tried to avoid a repeat of clashes between protesters and police on October 7 that left two people dead and nearly 500 injured.

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