Bangkok awaits airport crackdown amid coup rumours

November 28th, 2008 - 2:15 pm ICT by IANS  

Bangkok, Nov 28 (DPA) The police held an emergency meeting Friday at the defence ministry after being given the job of clearing Don Mueang Airport of anti-government protestors who have cut off the Thai capital’s air traffic for three days even as rumours of a military coup spread.Major General Suchart Muengeow was seen entering the ministry at 10.30 a.m. He was reportedly conferring with Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, who is also defence minister, by video conference.

Somchai has based himself in Chiang Mai, 550 km north of Bangkok, since returning to Thailand Wednesday from a summit meeting of the Asia-Pacific countries in Peru.

Somchai declared a state of emergency Thursday night at Don Mueang, Bangkok’s old international airport, and Suvarnabhumi International Airport, its new one, and put the police in charge of
clearing the facilities of thousands of followers of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD).

Suchart has been given the responsibility of clearing Don Mueang while Police Lieutenant General Chalong Sonjai has been put in charge
of Suvarnabhumi.

Both police officers are former classmates of fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who, although living in exile, remains a key character in Thailand’s ongoing political drama.

Suvarnabhumi, the capital’s $4-billion airport that was opened in September 2006, was closed to departing flights Tuesday, after being invaded by PAD supporters while Don Mueang was forced to
close down Thursday.

Both airports have been taken over by the PAD, which is determined to topple the government.

The closures have cost Thailand untold damage in terms of lost revenues to its tourism industry, the kingdom’s main foreign exchange earner.

Somchai has ordered the police to take responsibility for taking action against the PAD but has kept the army out of the operation,
leading to rampant rumours that the army would stage a coup against the government.

Army chief Anupong Paochinda Wednesday called on
Somchai to dissolve parliament and hold a snap election as the best means of solving Thailand’s political standoff.

The PAD, a loose coalition of groups opposed to the return to power of Thaksin and the kind of money-politics he represented, enjoys the support of much of the Bangkok-based middle class and
members of the political elite.

The last time the police cracked down on the PAD, they fired tear-gas canisters at the protestors on Oct 7, leaving two demonstrators dead in the ensuing mayhem.

The police came under severe public criticism for using excessive force.

Queen Sirikit, wife of Thailand’s much revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, attended the funeral of one of the victims.

On Wednesday, General Anupong also called on the PAD to leave Suvarnabhumi airport, but it immediately rejected the general’s plea.

Somchai has turned down Anupong’s appeal to dissolve Parliament, leaving no end in sight to Thailand’s political crisis and an increasing likelihood of violence.

The PAD is known to be seeking a military coup, but Anupong has
repeatedly said a coup is no solution.

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