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Page last updated at 09:12 GMT, Thursday, 4 December 2008

Bangkok airport resumes flights

Thai Airlines plane at Bangkok airport
Thai Airways plans to run 24 flights in and out of Bangkok on Thursday

Flights have resumed at Bangkok's international airport following the end of a week-long blockade by anti-government protesters.

Thirty-six aircraft were scheduled to take off, 12 of which are international flights, but officials say a full schedule will not resume until Friday.

A halt was called to the blockade on Wednesday after a court ruling that deposed the prime minister.

The king of Thailand will give his annual speech later on Thursday.

Many Thais were keen for the airport standoff to be resolved before the deeply revered monarch celebrated his 81st birthday on Friday.

Stranded passengers

Led by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), protesters had camped out at the airport for eight days, using the electricity and water and virtually closing down the country's aviation links.

More than 300,000 travellers have been stranded by the political unrest, and despite the fact the airport has reopened, correspondents say there is still a huge backlog of tourists waiting to leave Thailand.

Thai Airways said it would operate 24 international flights - 12 outbound and 12 inbound - to and from Europe, Asia and Australia at Suvarnabhumi before midnight on Thursday.

The airline and the Airports Authority of Thailand said they were preparing to sue the protesters for damages resulting from the occupation.

Thailand's economy, which is dependant on tourism and exports, is also expected to take time to recover.

The country's central bank cut interest rates by a shock 100 basis points to 2.75% on Wednesday, reflecting the economic costs of the crisis.

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Stranded tourists on their airport ordeal

Political chasm

Despite the dispersal of the protesters, the Thai political landscape remains riven with uncertainty.

The government has 30 days in which to find a new prime ministerial candidate, but the protesters say they will return to the streets if they dislike the choice.

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
3 December 2008: Protesters vacate Bangkok airports

The PAD accuses the government of being a proxy for deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who they accuse of corruption.

But the opponents of Mr Thaksin have been unable to win any election to replace him or his allies, who retain strong support from the rural poor.

Deputy Prime Minister Chaowarat Chandeerakul has been endorsed as caretaker leader, but analysts warn that the current solution is only temporary.

"It is nothing more than an intermission. It is not over until the two sides of the political spectrum can reconcile and the prospect of that happening is very bleak," Charnvit Kasetsiri, a historian and former rector of Bangkok's Thammasat University, told the Associated Press.

Meanwhile attention is turning to the annual birthday-eve speech later on Thursday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Due to turn 81 and thought to be in poor health, the king has long been looked to for guidance in times of turmoil; this year analysts say the stakes have rarely been higher.

Months of protests have left at least six people dead, and the divisions in Thai society starker than ever.

The king is due to make his remarks on radio at around 1300 GMT.

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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
Telegraph First flights leave Thailand - 3 hrs ago
Kyodo Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport resumes flights - 4 hrs ago
Boston Globe Thai protesters lift airport siege - 6 hrs ago
PBS Thai Court Rules to Disband Governing Party, Dismiss Prime Minister - 7 hrs ago
Reuters UPDATE 5-Thai protesters lift airport siege, flight lands - 7 hrs ago



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