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November 30, 2008

Thailand Political Stalemate:
Standoff continues as economy suffers

Police built a massive cordon around anti-government protesters occupying Thailand's main airport Saturday, raising fears of an imminent confrontation in a standoff that has disrupted the country's economy and the travel industry worldwide, reported the Associated Press.

About 2,000 policemen were deployed around Suvarnabhumi international airport, where protesters calling themselves the People's Alliance for Democracy have camped out since late Tuesday, forcing the halt of all flights.

The protesters also have occupied Bangkok's domestic airport and the prime minister's office compound, virtually paralysing the government in their campaign to force its resignation.

The confrontation, severing the capital from civilian air traffic, has taken a heavy toll on Thailand's economy and reputation. According to Thai media reports some 100,000 tourists are stranded, and schedules of airlines around the world have been disrupted.

So far security forces have only issued a warning to the protesters to leave and refrained from using force. The protesters say they will not leave until the government of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat resigns.

But it appears the government's patience is wearing thin.

"The police will issue another warning to protesters to leave the two airports. The language in the warning will be stronger than the first one," said a police spokesman, Maj. Gen. Amnuay Nimmano.

He said if the protesters do not leave, a deadline will be issued "in the third warning - the last one before we take action."

The roadblocks were meant to prevent more protesters from joining thousands of others inside the terminal building, but local television reports said there still were protesters and supporters entering the terminal.

About 50 soldiers guarded the maintenance facility of the airport, a few kilometers (miles) away from the main complex.

With international repercussions obvious, the European Union and the United States urged the protesters to end their siege.

The People's Alliance for Democracy accuses the government of being a puppet of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a 2006 military coup and fled overseas to escape corruption charges.

Prime Minister Somchai, who is Thaksin's brother-in-law, is now operating the government out of the northern city of Chiang Mai, blocked out of his office in Bangkok.

Tension rose further Saturday after a pro-government group expressed frustration at the continuing standoff and called for an indefinite sit-in starting Sunday in central Bangkok.

A local daily meanwhile reported an explosion at the government house early Sunday which injured 50 anti-government protesters.

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