The government indicated on Friday it would try to talk protesters out of the Bangkok airports without using force – but the demonstrators sneered at a request from a high-ranking official to leave and claimed they would “fight to the death” against any police attack.
The state of emergency declared by the embattled cabinet of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat sparked widespread fears that any attempt to use force to clear Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports could spark a bloody confrontation with the anti-government activists.
Airlines began flying stranded air travellers out from Utapao naval base on Friday. But there are tens of thousands of passengers who have missed flights from the four days of unrest that have badly hit Thailand’s tourist industry and Utapao is a Vietnam war-era base with few tourist facilities.
Somsak Kosaisuk, a core leader of the People’s Alliance for Democracy, told a crowd of yellow-shirted supporters occupying Don Mueang airport: “We are not afraid. We will fight to the death, we will not surrender and we are ready.”
Top PAD leader Chamlong Srimuang told reporters that “a senior person in the country” had telephoned to ask him to move his protest out of Suvarnabhumi airport because the closure has severely damaged the economy.
Maj-Gen Chamlong boasted he had told the senior person that he will halt all rallies – if the prime minister resigns.
Anti-government activists braced for an assault Friday night. They extended barbed-wire cordons to about three kilometres around Suvarnabhumi, and blocked the few access roads, witnesses said.
Police say around 4,000 protesters from the PAD are occupying Suvarnabhumi for a fourth day.
The international community openly criticised Thai officials on Friday. At a meeting called at the Foreign Ministry to “explain” the situation to ambassadors, the foreign envoys called on the government to clear the Don Mueang and Suvarnabhumi airports as soon as possible.
Police began planning what they described as an open operation to reclaim the airports.
Bangkok police chief Pol Lt Gen Suchart Muankaew said after a video conference with the prime minister that he will begin with peaceful means, and try to talk the demonstrators into leaving, but with plans to escalate action.
Before any operation, he will invite representatives from the National Human Rights Commission, the Lawyers Council, the National Anti-Corruption Commission and the media to a meeting to give advice. He would allow live television broadcasts of any police operation, to counter any possible charges of brutality.
“We will use the gentle way first. The priority is to negotiate and not crack down immediately. We are all Thais,” regional deputy police commander Pol Maj Gen Piya Sorntrakoon told the AFP news agency.
In a dramatic sign that anarchy was creeping in, government spokesman Suparat Nakbunnam said Mr Somchai would remain in Chiang Mai “indefinitely.”
“As there are still uncertainties in the tensions between the government and army, for his safety the prime minister will stay in Chiang Mai,” he said.
A poll by Bangkok University released on Friday claimed that support for the PAD had dropped below 12 per cent in Bangkok, but that just 16.1 per cent backed the use of force by the army or police to clear the protesters from the airport.
The occupation of the airports has had severe economic effects. Sudjit Intharathaiwong, deputy secretary general of the Board of Investment, said 200,000 workers in the electronics assembly plants around Bangkok have been laid off because of the lack of transport to import raw materials and export computer chips and other electonic parts.
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