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Blogwatch

November 26, 2008
Travelers stranded as Thai protests persist

Protesters crowded the streets of Bangkok this week.

The Suvarnabhumi airport in Thailand halted departing flights in response to anti-government protesters.

Thousands of anti-government protesters continue to occupy Bangkok’s international airport, clamoring for Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat to resign. Protesters took over the airport on Wednesday and have refused to leave. The protesters have also called for new elections.

The airport is evacuating stranded travelers and halted departing flights.

The halts come as a blow to Thailand’s tourism industry, which has already suffered from the effects of the global financial crisis.

Blogger “Surawat” was at the airport picking up a friend when the protesters arrived and describes the siege.

Blogger and tourist “PJM” is trapped in Thailand due to flight cancellations, while blogger “Storynature” contemplates canceling a trip to the country because of the unrest.

The anti-government People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) is campaigning against Wongsawat, contesting that he is a puppet for his brother-in-law and ousted Thai leader, Thaksin Shinawatra.

Blogger “Mackensie” writes from Uttaradit, Thailand to provide a background of the conflict, arguing that the airport siege will have massive economic repercussions.

The protesters used open firearms for the first time on Tuesday during street rallies, and some have labeled this the PAD’s “final battle.”

Twitter user “kofty” in Bangkok posts updates about the situation.

A recent announcement from the PAD apologizes for the inconvenience created by the airport closure, but calls the siege “crucial.”

The “ThaiXpatWriter” blog calls for Prime Minister  Wongsawat to step down, proclaiming “Fight on yellowshirts!” ( a reference to the PAD’s yellow garb).

The “Aventures d’un métis” blog says the PAD should change their title to TAD — “Thais Against Democracy.”

The “Meaw & More” blog argues that by not preventing the airport siege, the government has allowed the PAD to self-destruct by creating negative public sentiment.

A blogger at “Our Thailand Adventure” writes about possible end-game scenarios to the airport siege and other protests.

Listen to Patrick Winn’s report from Bangkok about the airport siege and Simon Montlak’s report on the impact of protests on the Thai tourism industry.

Photos courtesy of nicolas and LookatLao under a Creative Commons license.

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Comments

2 comments

#2

Hey Folks,

Just got out of Thailand yesterday. It took almost 4 days from Bangkok to Singapore.
Hints to the weary. #1. Get copies of your tickets if you go bus. #2 do not panic.
#3. Look for other venders if you feel you are being run around. #4. If you can gang together, you may be able to get better discounts from some venders. #5 Don’t trust that you will make any connections..#6 If you feel you have been cheated, the police may help you if you have proof of your ticket. ie. a photocopy. It may just be the principle of the thing, but if enough people catch the bad acters at least its something.

Here is our story in brief. We left Thursday evening at 7 and were told we would have 4 connections and that it would take 38 hours. It took about 12 hours for first connection and a one hour wait to 2nd connection in southern Thailand (where there are travel advisories) Sorry but I don’t have the spelling on city, maybe Hot My or some such.

On arrival, we are told, Oh sorry, but all the buses are full, you will have to wait till tomorrow. Not good..some folks start to organize, then maybe we can get a bus to Kualu Lumpur. We had paid to go to Singapore and all of us were stranded again, in a bad area. Not good. Eventually we were all able to secure a bus to KL for 1500 baht, but the manipulation was outrageous and a few who had photocopies of their ticktets were able to get a TOKEN refund, (Two fine Irish men) but we were handled very poorly and everyone made to feel as if there were no hope of getting out for a while because all the busses were filled already.

Long story short, we did make it to KL about 2 in morning after being shuttled by minibuses and such. From KP, on Sunday morning, we were able to get bus to Singapore, no problem for about $15, I think, US, not bad price, but the drivers were surly and actually left us standing at the Singapore entry port. Six of us, they just left. Then we ran into another young woman who had also been again stranded. It was very busy at the customs coming/ going and very frustrating. In any case, last point, was money changing. If you are going to change money, remember, you are tired, angry and confused. Do not just hand over your money to money changer. Give them a slip of paper with amount you want changed, then ask what they will charge to get Singapore dollars. Get it in writing…These folks are quite unscrupulous and will gladly take advantage of you. Other wise, no problems in Malaysia, or KP. To do it over again, I would have tried to get to KP and fly out from there, but if not Singapore is fine, but do NOT trust that your bus connections will hold up. You are better off just getting to Hot Ya or however you spell it and then making connections from there…They have a captive market and no problems taking advantage of you….Good luck..Feel free to email me

Jim K.

#1

Look, the problem is being grossly misunderstood by the foreign media, and especially in the Thai media, which you may not realize is largely controlled by private interests in the hands of Thaksin. Free media as Thais used to know it has largely gone away as Thaksin used his economic power to eliminate any opposing outlets.

The main point is this -that Thaksin was responsible for doing away with the checks and balances–he basically disabled the constitution as it stood–and in addition to rampant centralized corruption and thousands of extra-judicial executions of suspected drug traffickers, he also abused the power of the intelligence services to damage business rivals and political opponents and was responsible for several assassinations that were purely politically motivated. He really needed to be gotten rid of.

You see, the people that are protesting in BKK are not just the old elite, they are the well-educated people that understand that the real threat from Thaksin was that Thailand was rapidly becoming an authoritarian regime like Singapore under Lee Kuan Yu. That is not how Thailand sees its future, and its unfortunate that the rural Thais in many cases have not caught on to this larger geopolitical issue. Remember that it is the BKK Thais that originally supported Thaksin in his initial run for Prime Minister against the provincial candidates. Why do you think they would subsequently turn away from their candidate? Because they realize how dangerous he has become.

Now there are things that Thaksin did for the good of the rural population, and those were good things for them. However, it has basically acted as a huge vote-buying scheme that has cemented his votes in the rural areas, with those people not able to see the terrible things he was doing to civil liberties. Think of it as throwing a dog a bone, and then stealing all the meat while the dog enjoyed his bone.

In previous administrations, there was ample corruption to be sure, but that corruption would always come to light, and the opposition parties in parliament would investigate it and eventually the coalition government would disintegrate, and new elections would be held. These were the checks and balances. Under Thaksin, however, he isolated a marginalized the opposition through fear of physical and economic retaliation to the point where there was no longer anyone to stand in the way of the corruption. And he used that opportunity to make huge personal gains for himself at the expense of the Thai people without recompense. There was no end in site to the abuse of power, hence BKK Thais, with the support of the King, finally had to throw him out. Rural Thais did not generally care about the abuses of taxpayer money, because most of them pay little or no taxes anyway, so they would not be adversely affected. All they saw was the medical programs, rural loan programs, etc. being used extremely wisely to buy their votes. Previous administrations always bought their votes illegally with cold cash. Thaksin found a way to do it legally through these programs.

Many in the foreign media have chastised the protesters for blocking the airport.. But the protesters have tried other means for months, and to no avail. So when you need to really make your point and create change, hitting them hard economically may be the only way to do it. So while I understand that this may cause a lot of economic hardship for everyone, I applaud the people for standing up to authoritarianism in ways that I never thought they would. Many in the foreign media have said that the protesters are un-democratic in calling for the ouster of the “democratic” government. But as I have said, there is nothing democratic about this government, and with all democratic checks and balances throw out the window by Thaksin, the BKK Thais have no other vehicle to use.

I wonder if these same media sources would consider the protesters of the Vietnam War who interrupted the Democratic National Convention in the US as “undemocratic.” Or how about the civil rights movement under Dr. Martin Luther King marching against Jim Crow laws of the southern US states? Was that un-democratic? Again, there are many cases in the world where in the case for just, moral, and right action calls for people to rise up against government, even government that claims to be “democratically elected.” As a westerner, I am sure you must understand this. So how can you call them dumbasses for doing so? It is extremely naïve in your part, because you don’t understand a thing about Thai politics. You are also degrading the Thai people by not considering that they are capable of understanding the full implications of the severity of their situation and the impacts of their actions.

J Walker

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