Page last updated at 20:50 GMT, Sunday, 30 November 2008

Tension grows over Thai blockade


Protesters occupy Bangkok's international airport

Tension is growing in the Thai capital Bangkok as thousands of anti-government protesters occupy the city's two main airports for a seventh day.

Police said they were negotiating with the group as experts warned of soaring economic losses from the blockade.

Some 100,000 passengers remain stranded in Bangkok while efforts are being made to find alternative airports.

Meanwhile, thousands of government supporters held their first rally in the capital since the blockade began.

People were pushing and cutting into the line because they were afraid of missing their flights
Farah Uddin
BBC News website reader at U-Tapao relief airport

The opposition want the government to resign, accusing it of being corrupt, hostile to the monarchy and in league with exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Fears of clashes between pro- and anti-government groups have grown since a new grenade attack on opposition supporters in Bangkok on Saturday night, which injured about 50 people, three of them seriously.

So far the two sides have not encountered each other but there are fears of serious violence if they do, the BBC's Jonathan Head reports from Bangkok.

Bedding down

There is little sign that the tens of thousands of tourists stranded in Bangkok will get home any time soon, the BBC's Quentin Somerville reports from Bangkok's international airport.

Government supporters rally in Bangkok on 30 November

The check-in desks are empty and on the concourse floor lie hundreds of anti-government protesters, settling in for another night of occupation.

They have bedding and plentiful supplies of food and water.

Televisions and radios blast out speeches calling for Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat to step down.

He says he will not go but he has been unable to dislodge the protesters.

The army are against him and the police have so far proved ineffective, our correspondent says.

The protesters from the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) are a loose alliance of royalists, businessmen and the urban middle class.

"Obviously it hurts the economy, but it's the only way we can push out this government," PAD supporter Prathan Tandavanitj, 60, told Reuters news agency at the airport.

Police say they want to avoid any violent confrontation and will not use weapons against the protesters at the capital's international and domestic airports.

An opposition spokesperson said talks with the police were not about ending the protest but about "improving security".

In Bangkok, red-shirted pro-government demonstrators condemned the airport blockade and accused the protesters of economic sabotage.

One banner read: "We love Thaksin. He is our hero."

Trying to leave

Some travellers have been trying to get to smaller airports around the country, but these are being overwhelmed.

Passengers queuing at U-Tapao (photo supplied by Farah Uddin)
BBC News website reader Farah Uddin sent a picture of the queue at U-Tapao

A few airlines have been using an airport at the U-Tapao naval base, about 140km (90 miles) south-east of Bangkok.

But the authorities there are said to be overwhelmed with hundreds of passengers cramming into the small facility.

"There was only one X-ray machine, and the line for that was very long," said Farah Uddin, a BBC News website reader.

"People were pushing and cutting into the line because they were afraid of missing their flights."

More than 450 Muslim pilgrims stranded at the international airport were taken by bus to the base on Sunday where they were to board a plane for the annual Hajj in Saudi Arabia.

Spain and Australia have been arranging special flights to evacuate their citizens.

Thailand's tourist industry is losing an estimated $85m (55.4m) per day, and the government warns that the number of foreign tourists arriving next year may halve, threatening one million jobs.

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