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Wed 7 Jan 2009 04:00 AM

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Political fight

Just how are protestors able to take major international airports in the post 9/11 era, the editor of Airport Middle East asks.

December was a month for protestation. Protestors stormed the tarmac at one of Britain's busiest airports, shut down two hubs in Thailand and forced the closure of Athens airport.

In the post 9/11 era, movements such as these are an effective way to rattle nerves and publicise political discontent.

As the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) claimed victory and vacated Bangkok's US$4 billion state-of-the-art airport, an army of cleaners, technicians and security personnel moved in behind them in a bid to resurrect the airport's operations as quickly as possible.

After eight days of occupation by anti-government protestors, Thailand's main international airport, Suvarnabhumi, has resumed full operations but thousands of passengers faced long delays as the backlog took time to clear.

Throughout the protest, PAD camped at the airport to force the prime minister to resign, stranding over 230,000 travellers as all air traffic was stopped. But the questions raised by their actions will continue to be asked long after the airlines and airport resume normal services.

PAD's seizure of the airport had clearly been planned weeks before the sit-in protest began. The movement's logistical efficiency meant that within hours of occupying the airport it had an unending supply of food, water, blankets and medicines for the thousands of middle-class supporters taking part.

Demonstrators could get their mobile phones charged, have a massage, and use the washroom facilities that were kept in order by PADs own cleaners. PAD guards sealed off the duty-free and check-in areas and mobile stages ensured that the movements political message was widely broadcast on mainstream television stations worldwide.

Suvarnabhumi is one of the busiest airports in Asia and Bangkok's primary airport for all international airline flights. It is a main import and export hub for South East Asia and as PAD members warn they will return "if the nation needs us", the airports' authority must begin taking preventative steps. Should an event such as this occur again, the authorities, at the very least, must be able to get trapped tourists home. But figuring out a safe and efficient way to do so, is where the problem lies.

As the airport returned to normality and a carnival mood took hold, 700 soldiers and specialist bomb squads moved into the airport complex with sniffer dogs to search for explosive devices. At the outset of the protest, the government called on the army to assist in breaking up the demonstration but the army refused to help.

Sarah Cowell is the editor of Airport Middle East.

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Peter 11 years ago

This vacuous repetition of wire stories doesn't even begin to touch the facts underlying the closure of Bangkok's airports. Maybe a little proper research is required, because it is this kind of mindless drivel that is hurting Thailand's tourism industry. That is because it suggests it can all happen again. The armed forces actually control the airports, which is how the shut-down happened. The new, armed-forces approved government might have the odd advantage.

Marlow 11 years ago

...that government changes again Peter? Regardless of who organised the Thai shut down, it is clearly a volatile - if somewhat politely so - political environment. Change is still in the air.

paul 11 years ago

Peter, I really don't get your analysis of the situation in Thailand. If what you say is true, the Thai military conspired with protestors whose aim was to topple a democratically elected government and replace it with an appointed pro-royalist one. They did this by allowing protestors to close Bangkok's airports, stranding many thousands of foreigners for weeks (most were tourists) and taking no action to remove the protestors and allow the tourists to leave. You think the tourist industry in Thailand will be helped by your alternative view that the military controls the country and deliberately stranded foreigners for weeks in order to topple the democratically elected government? Spain sounds much safer if you ask me.