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Page last updated at 14:08 GMT, Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Thai airport protests called off

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Quentin Sommerville at Bangkok's Suvanabhumi international airport as the protests draw to a close

Thai anti-government protesters have agreed to end their occupation of Bangkok's airports, allowing thousands of stranded tourists to leave.

Passenger flights from the main international airport could resume as soon as 4 December, say correspondents.

Protests had shut down Thailand's two main airports for more than a week.

The deal follows a court ruling that forced Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat to step down over election fraud and disbanded his governing party.

ESCALATING CONFLICT
September 2006: Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra ousted in military coup
February 2008: Samak Sundaravej sworn in as prime minister
August 2008: PAD protesters occupy government buildings, demanding the government step down
September 2008: Mr Samak dismissed for violating conflict of interest law. Somchai Wongsawat, Thaksin's brother-in-law, becomes prime minister
October 2008: Thaksin given a two-year jail sentence for corruption in his absence
26 November 2008: Anti-government protesters take control of Bangkok's main airport
2 December 2008: Thai court rules that PM Somchai should be banned from politics, and his party should be dissolved

The occupation had closed Suvarnabhumi international airport and the smaller domestic Don Mueang airport, stranding tens of thousands of foreign tourists and forcing them to scramble for alternative ways home.

Thailand's important tourism industry was crippled and exports of everything from electronics to fresh food were either stopped or had to be switched to ships or transported to Malaysia to be flown out.

The leaders of the anti-government People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) said all their protests would end from 1000 (0300 GMT) on 3 December.

There are conflicting reports as to when passenger flights from the two airports will resume, but they may begin as soon as 4 December, says the BBC's Quentin Sommerville at Suvarnabhumi airport.

The date signifies the importance in the crisis of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej, whose birthday is celebrated on 5 December, our correspondent says.

Although now elderly and frail, the king is greatly revered by Thais and continues to be a powerful figurehead.

New coalition

The PAD declared victory after the constitutional court's ruling forced the prime minister to step down.

Anti-government PAD protesters at the main international airport on hearing that the prime minister would step down

"The People's Alliance for Democracy has agreed to cease protesting after a long-running 192-day campaign," said Sondhi Limthongkul, one of the group's leaders.

The nine-judge constitutional court found the People Power Party (PPP), the Machima Thipatai party and the Chart Thai party guilty of vote-buying in the last general election, in 2007.

The parties have been ordered to disband and their leaders have been barred from politics for five years.

Most of the PPP's MPs will retain their seats however, and they have said they will regroup and form a new coalition.

They said they would seek a parliamentary vote for a new prime minister on 8 December.

The court's ruling came after months of PAD-led protests that have crippled the political process in Thailand.

They had vowed to continue their protests until the entire government stepped down.

They accused Mr Somchai's administration of being corrupt and hostile to the much-revered monarchy, and too close to ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The protests had forced a political crisis, revealing deep splits between the PAD - a loose alliance of royalists, businessmen and the urban middle class - and government supporters, who draw their strength from the rural north and north-east of Thailand.

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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
Sydney Morning HeraldFlights resume as Thai protests end - 1 hr ago
Telegraph First flights leave Thailand - 3 hrs ago
Sydney Morning HeraldAirports reopen but more trouble looms - 3 hrs ago
Al Jazeera Flights return to Bangkok airport - 5 hrs ago
Sydney Morning HeraldFlights resume as Thai protesters abandon airports - 6 hrs ago
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