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December 3, 2008

Thailand Political Stalemate:
Anti-government protesters call it a day, for now

Hundreds of anti-government protesters began leaving Bangkok's main airport in cars, taxis and buses Wednesday after ending a crippling eight-day blockade, an AFP correspondent said.

Vehicles packed high with demonstrators' belongings began streaming out of Suvarnabhumi shortly after the 10:00 am (0300 GMT) time set by leaders of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) for the end of the protest.

The PAD made the announcement to end its eight-day occupation of Suvarnabhumi international airport and cease all other protests on Tuesday after a court toppled the target of the royalist movement's protests, Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, and disbanded the ruling party following a six-month campaign by the PAD.

The airport authority said the first international flights from the $3-billion airport would resume on Thursday.

The closures have left around 350,000 travellers stranded in Thailand, with foreign nations scrambling to send emergency flights to a military airbase southeast of Bangkok and to Thai provincial airports.

The PAD's protests led to the coup which toppled Thaksin in 2006. They took to the streets again in May this year. Somchai's predecessor, Samak Sundaravej, was forced out in September for receiving payment for a TV cooking show.

Analysts said the developments would bring a brief respite until the remnants of the government tried to name a new premier in parliament, probably on December 8, but it would not solve the kingdom's underlying problems.

The PPP said it was ready to move lawmakers into a shell party called Pheu Thai (For Thais) and continue administering the country, spokesman Kudeb Saikrajang said, while the other coalition parties have vowed to back them.

A parliamentary vote next week will determine a new prime minister. But before that, King Bhumibol Adulyadej will address the nation on his birthday this Friday, and his subjects will be listening for wise words to heal his fractured kingdom.

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