Thai crisis creates vacuum of power as rivals protest

Progovernment demonstrators gather to support Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat on Sunday in Bangkok. Antigovernment protesters refuse to leave Bangkok’s airports.

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Progovernment demonstrators gather to support Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat on Sunday in Bangkok. Antigovernment protesters refuse to leave Bangkok’s airports.

BANGKOK, Thailand — Government supporters converged on the capital on Sunday, in a counter to rival protesters who seized control of Bangkok's two airports and forced the prime minister to run the country from afar.

Neither the army nor Thailand's revered king have stepped in to resolve the crisis — or offered the firm backing that Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat needs to resolve the leadership vacuum.

The problem runs deeper than the airport closures, which have stranded up to 100,000 travelers, strangled the key tourism industry and affected plane schedules worldwide. Political violence has added to the sense of drift bordering on anarchy that pervades the country's administration.

Explosions on Sunday hit the prime minister's compound, which protesters from the People's Alliance for Democracy have held since August, an antigovernment television station, and a road near the main entrance to the occupied domestic airport. At least 51 people were injured, officials said.

No one claimed responsibility, but Suriyasai Katasila, a spokesman for the protest group, blamed the government.

Afterward, senior protest leader Chamlong Srimuang met with Bangkok police chief Lt. Gen. Suchart Muankaew. The two agreed to have police and protesters jointly patrol protest sites at the prime minister's office and Don Muang domestic airport.

The alliance says it will not give up until Somchai resigns, accusing him of being a puppet of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the alliance's original target. Thaksin, who is Somchai's brother-in-law, was deposed in a 2006 military coup and has fled the country to escape corruption charges.

Thousands of government supporters wearing red shirts, headbands and bandannas joined a rally Sunday against the protest alliance. They have adopted red to distinguish themselves from their yellow-garbed rivals.

The supporters of the People's Alliance for Democracy are largely middle-class citizens who say Thailand's electoral system is susceptible to vote-buying and argue that the rural majority in the north and the northeast — the Thaksin camp's political base — is not sophisticated enough to cast ballots responsibly.

Thai crisis creates vacuum of power as rivals protest 11/30/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 10:42am]

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