11/27/2008, 00.00
THAILAND
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Anti-government protesters block Bangkok’s second airport

Members of the Popular Alliance for Democracy storm Don Mueang Airport, used mostly for domestic flights. Cabinet is set to hold special session in Chiang Mai. Military call on the government to resign but deny charges they are planning a coup. Tourism is crippled by the crisis and could lose up to US$ 3 billion in revenues.
Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Anti-government protesters led by leaders of the Popular Alliance for Democracy (PAD) have forced the closure of Bangkok’s second, older airfield, Don Mueang Airport, used mainly for domestic flights.

Protesters took over the airport to stop ministers from leaving for Chiang Mai, in the north, were a special cabinet session is scheduled to tackle the crisis.

Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat is already there after coming home following an official visit to Peru. He is expected to chair a cabinet meeting when his ministers arrive after it became impossible to do so in Bangkok.

Yesterday the prime minister reiterated his intention not to resign and to continue instead to work for the well-being of the country.

He said that he heads a “legitimate” government that was “democratically elected” by the people in free and fair elections.

His statement came a few hours after Army Chief General Anupong Paojinda called on him to resign and hold new elections.

The general however rejected allegations that the military was planning another coup, saying that the government still had "full authority" over the country.

He also told protesters to leave Suvarnabhumi International Airport where thousands of passengers have been stuck on benches and the baggage carousel.

The airport is one of the busiest in Asia with about 125,000 passengers transiting per day.

The Supreme Court has issued an injunction telling the PAD to leave the airport but the party rejected it, saying it will stop only if the government resigned.

The blockade imposed on the capital’s two airports is but the latest in the series of actions taken by the opposition party to force the government to resign. It claims that the current administration is a puppet of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was removed by the military in 2006 and now lives in exile in London.

The tourism industry, a backbone of the Thai economy, is taking the brunt of the crisis and could lose between US$ .2 and 3.4 billion in revenue if the turmoil continued for another month.

Tour operators and agencies have reported cancellations and tourists leaving in droves at a time of the year when hotels and resort areas should be fully booked.

The closure of some airports in the south in August as a result of protests had already created problems. This time protests could have devastating consequences for the country’s economy.

“Last time it was like shooting yourself in the kneecap,” Tourism and Sports Minister Weerasak Kowsurat said. “This time it's in the head.”

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