Darwinian Struggle To Find Ticket Out Of Thailand
A Darwinian Struggle To Find Airplanes Out Of Thailand
BANGKOK, Thailand -- Emergency
flights are evacuating thousands of Bangkok's grounded
passengers, but that is only a trickle of the 100,000 or
more people who want to escape this country's insurrection.
Grenade attacks wounded 51 anti-government protestors
on Sunday, heightening fear among travelers stuck in
Thailand, though no passengers have been hurt.
Darwinian struggle, the rich buy tickets for expensive
helicopters and chartered planes, flying from airstrips
elsewhere in Thailand, while protesters blockade Bangkok's
international and domestic airports.
desperately scramble into taxis, buses and trains to reach
those few scattered airports, only to find thousands of
people in similar straits, sweating, arguing or grinning
when told that some waiting lists already include thousands
of other names.
One possible way to fly out of
Thailand is from U-Tapao's runways, built by America to
launch B-52 bombers and other warplanes against Vietnam,
Cambodia and Laos during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Today, U-Tapao is a Thai navy base ringed by armed
troops, who are letting in baggage-toting travelers for a
small number of diverted flights out.
Unlike the zero
security at Bangkok's two airports, Thai navy officials said
they would use force to protect U-Tapao if any
anti-government protesters try to blockade the sprawling
U-Tapao is about 90 miles (140 kilometers)
southeast of Bangkok, near Pattaya, an infamously
hedonistic, seaside holiday destination.
to travel overland across into Laos, Cambodia, or Malaysia
and hope for international flights from there, or from
southern Thailand's Phuket island.
Coming the other
way, more travelers arrived in Bangkok on Sunday by bus and
train from elsewhere in the region, including many who were
on holidays in Thailand's lush countryside, or in China,
Burma, Laos, Cambodia or Vietnam.
Bangkok is a
regional hub for international flights, so some incoming
overland travelers had their return bookings scheduled for
Sunday, or later this week, and were aggravated to hear the
blockade had not been lifted.
occupation of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport
since Tuesday, and domestic Don Muang airport since
Wednesday, destroyed much of Thailand's ability to fly
people in and out of this Buddhist-majority Southeast Asian
country, or airfreight imports and exports.
is hemorrhaging nearly 100 million U.S. dollars a day in
lost tourism, restaurant, hotel, import, export and other
revenue, after anti-government protesters shut down this
country's two biggest airports without firing a shot.
In a bizarre breach of airport security, Thailand's
security officials passively allowed thousands of shouting,
club-wielding protestors to march into Bangkok's
international airport on Tuesday, and occupy its lavish,
sprawling departure and arrival lounges, passport control
areas, customs offices, and ultimately its control tower.
A day later, Thailand's security forces stood by and
allowed anti-government protesters to seize Bangkok's
smaller, domestic airport.
airlines also discovered about 90 of their planes were
trapped on the tarmac, unable to lift off.
planes are still parked next to the airports' abandoned
gates, costing the airline companies countless dollars in
lost ticket sales and eventual maintenance problems.
The protesters are led by the People's Alliance for
Democracy (PAD), who want to cancel the last election which
their preferred politicians lost, and replace democratic
voting with a vague system of appointed politicians.
The elitist, rightwing, royalist PAD leads a minority
of urban wealthy and middle class protesters against
Thailand's majority rural poor and their supporters.
The PAD insists the poor are too ignorant, and easily
bribed, to vote correctly.
The PAD is led by Sondhi
Limthongkul who is a frustrated telecommunications tycoon.
His sidekick is retired Maj-Gen Chamlong Srimuang who
is a Buddhist spiritualist, alcohol prohibitionist and
successful anti-abortion campaigner.
They refuse to
vacate Bangkok's two airports until they oust Somchai
Wongsawat, who became prime minister in September and leads
a hugely popular People Power Party in a coalition.
Mr. Somchai is a brother-in-law of former prime
minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled in a 2006
military coup which was cheered by the PAD.
protesters want all of Mr. Thaksin's political allies barred
Mr. Thaksin is an international
fugitive, along with his wife, after the couple were
recently convicted of corruption, and both sentenced to
three years imprisonment.
Meanwhile on Sunday, a
grenade injured 49 protesters who have illegally occupied
the prime minister's Government House offices downtown since
About 20 minutes later, two more devices
exploded at PAD leader Sondhi's television station, without
injuring anyone, and not disrupting his propaganda
But two people were reportedly injured on
Sunday in an explosion near Bangkok's Don Muang domestic
Police were unable, or unwilling, to
confront protestors at Bangkok's two airports on Sunday.
More than 100 police retreated so rapidly from
Suvarnabhumi International Airport on Saturday that
protesters were able to collect several police riot shields,
and deflate the tires of a few police vans.
Thais expect a possible breakthrough on December 2, when a
Constitutional Court may rule on alleged electoral fraud by
the government's ruling People Power Party, and two smaller
parties, which could result in their dissolution.
the PPP may simply join a different, newly created party, to
stay in power.
The other date Thais are focusing on
is December 4, when revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej
traditionally gives a speech one day before his birthday.
Thais usually ensure the country is calm, peaceful and united during the monarch's birthday, which has led some to predict a possible end to the airports' occupation by then.
Richard S Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist who has reported news from Asia since 1978. He is co-author of "Hello My Big Big Honey!", a non-fiction book of investigative journalism, and his web page is http://www.geocities.com/asia_correspondent