Thai airport reveals protest contingency plan

BANGKOK: Thailand’s main airport, which was besieged by protesters in 2008, said today it had made contingency plans for protests this weekend, as ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra rallied supporters by text message.

Suvarnabhumi Airport said the plans were to deal with travel disruption or a possible blockade from March 11-23, the period when a special security law is in place to counter protests by backers of the deposed prime minister.

“There are concerns that travelling plans of passengers may be disrupted,” a statement from the airport said, advising international travellers to check in three to four hours before flying.

The airport’s general manager, Nirandra Theeranartsin, said there was also a contingency plan in case the so-called “Red Shirt” protesters tried to seize the facility, as rival anti-Thaksin “Yellow Shirts” did in late 2008.

Then the capital’s two airports were closed for nine days as protesters staged a sit-in to force Thaksin’s allies from government, causing huge economic damage and badly denting Thailand’s tourist-friendly image.

This weekend’s protests come just over two weeks after Thailand’s top court confiscated 1.4 billion dollars of Thaksin’s assets, which were frozen after the 2006 coup that toppled him from power.

“On (March) 14, come and gather to bring back our lost democracy and justice for future Thai generations,” the twice-elected tycoon told subscribers to his text messaging service on Wednesday.

Thaksin, who made his fortune in telecommunications, has also been egging on his supporters via videolink and his Twitter page from his self-imposed exile in Dubai, where he is living to avoid a jail term for graft.

The Red Shirts say they expect up to 600,000 people to attend the main rally on Sunday but the government estimates that around 100,000 will turn up.

The government is invoking a tough internal security act that allows it to call out troops, impose curfews and ban gatherings. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva warned Wednesday there could be “sabotage”. But the Reds’ leaders have said theirs will be a non-violent protest and that they will not occupy public or private buildings, including Suvarnabhumi or the mainly domestic Don Mueang airport.

“The government is trying to create fear by repeatedly saying there will be bombs here and there. It is in order to terrify protesters who may then be reluctant to come,” Nattawut Saikuar said.

The Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) said it too had prepared measures to ensure that trading was not affected between March 12 and 15. “SET has set up a special team to constantly monitor the situation as well as set up security measures for the SET building, its employees and the necessary infrastructure to ensure that trading and other significant systems will not be affected if the situation deteriorates.”