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Protesters blockade airport in Thailand

Antigovernment protesters blockade the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand, early today. Some broke through police lines and spilled into the passenger terminal.

Associated Press

Antigovernment protesters blockade the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand, early today. Some broke through police lines and spilled into the passenger terminal.

BANGKOK, Thailand — Thailand's main international airport canceled all flights todday as thousands of protesters swarmed the complex in efforts to bring down the government, stranding tourists and dealing a blow to the country's already-fragile tourism industry.

The airport takeover was one of the boldest gambles yet by the People's Alliance for Democracy in its four-month campaign to topple Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, whom it accuses of being the puppet of a disgraced fugitive predecessor, billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra.

The alliance vowed to bring its campaign to a final showdown this week. Violence has spiked, including streets clashes between supporters and opponents of the government Tuesday that included the first open use of firearms by the antigovernment protesters. Police said 11 government supporters were injured, some with gunshot wounds.

Early today, assailants threw four explosives at antigovernment protesters, including one targeting a group about a half-mile from Bangkok's main international Suvarnabhumi Airport.

A second was tossed into a crowd of supporters gathered at the domestic Don Muang airport, injuring three others, police said. Two other explosives were thrown in Bangkok but no one was injured.

Demonstrators — some masked and armed with metal rods — had swarmed the international airport overnight, breaking through police lines and spilling into the passenger terminal.

The airport was fully shut down early today, with incoming flights being diverted to other points in Thailand including Chiang Mai and Phuket, and as many as 500 passengers remained stranded, airport director Serirat Prasutanont said.

"Protesters blocked the entire airport," Serirat said. "However, we are trying to negotiate them to allow outgoing passengers stranded by the protest to fly. The incident has damaged Thailand's reputation and its economy beyond repair."

The alliance said the airport would be shut down until Somchai quits. The prime minister was scheduled to return late today from an Asia-Pacific summit in Peru and would land at a military airport, officials said.

Seeking chaos

Who are the protesters? The antigovernment demonstrators are mostly better educated, more affluent, urban Thais demanding that the country move away from a Western-style electoral system, which they say Thaksin Shinawatra exploited to buy votes. They are well organized and have the tacit support of elements of the military and parties close to the royal palace. They are outnumbered by Thaksin's supporters in the rural majority, who delivered his party two resounding election victories.

What do they want? The protesters appear intent on forcing the military to intervene and bring down the elected regime. They favor a system in which some representatives are chosen by certain professions and social groups.

WHAT's next? Support for the alliance has been waning in recent weeks, and the group appears to be edging toward bigger confrontations — involving more aggressive followers — in hopes of creating chaos.

Protesters blockade airport in Thailand 11/25/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 10:26am]

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