BANGKOK (The Nation): Up to 10,000 passengers are being stranded after the Suvarnabhumi Airport has been ordered closed as a result of a blockade by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD).
The Airports of Thailand (AOT) has decided to close the airport after the protesters blocked an entrance, entered passenger terminals and scuffled with airport officials.
The closure, ordered around 9 pm, involved stopping out-bound flights. In-bound planes were still being allowed to land late last night, but can be diverted to key provincial airports if the situation deteriorates.
The order was issued by AOT chief Serirat Prasutanont. He made the decision out of safety concerns after the protesters penetrated some passenger areas.
“The PAD members are now scattered around. I don’t know who’s who, or who’s PAD and who’s not,” a senior AOT official said at around 10:30 pm.
How long the closure will last is not known. According to Serirat, the initial airport schedules had 44 in-bound flights and 40 departures between 11:30 pm yesterday and 7 am today.
THAI reported that more than 21 flights – to Japan, India, Iran, Europe, among others – were canceled last night. This affected up to 6,000 travelers. Overall, up to 10,000 travelers could have been affected last night alone, according to airline sources.
As the PAD protesters moved to block the motorway entrance to the Suvarnabhumi Airport in the afternoon when the plane carrying Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat was scheduled to land, the arrival of his plane from Peru was announced to have been delayed due to technical problems.
Some sources said he might now be arriving this evening.
“We have tried to pressure the government for more than 50 hours but nothing has happened, so we need to step up our campaign by closing the airport to tell the world [about the] problems Thailand is facing,” said PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul at Government House last night.
Before the closure order, the AOT was last night mobilizing its officials to Suvarnabhumi to make sure no key operations would be disrupted. Travelers can still access the terminals through Bang Na -Trad highway, but the motorway entrance has been crowded with protesters.
Many travelers have already suffered inconvenience. Arrival passengers were stranded all night and the AOT was trying to facilitate their transport out of the airport. The AOT has also issued a statement pleading with the PAD.
For THAI flight information, the Bangkok number 02-356 1111 has been provided.
It was a big political gamble by the PAD, which has seen its support declining lately because of controversial, provocative moves. Its die-hard following, however, has been galvanized by deaths and injuries of PAD members since October 7, when police fired tear gas at protesters marching to Parliament.
Sondhi, the PAD leader, told his followers that only Somchai’s unconditional resignation would make the PAD end its latest move. Somchai is a brother-in-law of deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
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