Wednesday, December 3, 2008

PAD Wins (For now)

The political crisis in Thailand is over for the time being. This doesn't mean things can't go pear shaped again in a few months. For now though the Thai Government has been dissolved and the protesting PADs have left the two main airports.

A Thai International Airways flight to Australia on Wednesday was the first international flight in a week to leave Bangkok's main airport after protesters ended their crippling siege to bring relief to tourists.

The end of the blockade came a day after the anti-government People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) claimed victory against premier Somchai Wongsawat, when a court barred him from politics and disbanded the ruling party.

Officials said 388 passengers were on the Thai Airways flight to Sydney that departed from Suvarnabhumi Airport, most of them Australian tourists who were among the 350,000 travellers stranded in Thailand for the past eight days.

"It's really good to go back home," Australian Brad Wheeler told AFP as he waited for the Sydney flight, which left nearly 90 minutes late due to problems getting passengers from a makeshift check-in desk in central Bangkok.

A handful of domestic flights and a plane from Jordan also trickled in to the airport, while international departures to New Delhi, Narita, Frankfurt, Seoul and Copenhagen were due during the night.

Hundreds of yellow-clad demonstrators had earlier streamed out of Suvarnabhumi and the Don Mueang domestic airports in cars, taxis and buses after the PAD handed over control to authorities.

"We will come back when the nation needs us," warned Somkiat Pongpaibul, a key leader of the PAD.

Thai authorities concentrated Wednesday on getting the airport up and running following a week in which governments around the world have operated emergency flights to evacuate desperate tourists.

Until Wednesday they were being ferried slowly out of a naval base southeast of Bangkok and a handful of regional airports.

"We will try and get everything back to normal as soon as possible," said Airports of Thailand chief Vudhibhandhu Vichairatana.

Damage from the occupation had not yet been estimated, Vudhibhandhu said. But Thai Airways said it alone had lost about $560 million.

Acting Prime Minister Chavarat Charnvirakul said parliament would likely vote on a new prime minister on Monday or Tuesday.

"In the next two weeks I think we will come again," said protester Pas Apinantpreeda.

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