Airport protest ends, flights to resume soon

The siege of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports came to a close Wednesday morning as protesters agreed to go home and end their actions, following the removal of the Prime Minister from his post. Organisers of the week long protest, which has created havoc for tourists, said their objective of forcing the present government out had been achieved and that they would allow the airport to resume services.

However, more than 200,000 stranded passengers will have to wait several more days to get home, as airport authorities warned that it could take a week or more to re-commission the airport for safe and efficient use. Cargo flights have resumed and the airport will begin accepting in-bound flights from today, although it is unclear whether it will be able to process in-bound tourists immediately. Travellers are advised to contact their airlines for immediate details.

A court ruling on Tuesday effectively ended the ruinous standoff when the ruling coalition party and two of its partners were found guilty of vote fraud in the December 2007 election, effectively disbanding them and forcing the Prime Minister to resign, along with his cabinet. The protesters had seized the airport in a desperate attempt to force them out, following months of action against a government which they described as a 'proxy of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra'.

Meanwhile, flights have been taking off from Pattaya's U-Tapao airport, Chiang Mai and Phuket to help get tourists home. Inbound tourists have been arriving via these airports and Kuala Lumpur, traveling overland to reach destinations in the Kingdom. Cancellations have been numerous, putting enormous pressure on the tourist sector ahead of its depressed 2009 season.

With the court ruling and subsequent protest end, the political tension is likely to fade, with no adverse reaction reported as yet to the ruling from a pro-government protest group. The threat of clashes on the streets, or military intervention has now greatly diminished, along with risks to the personal safety of travellers.

The saga has been devastating to the travel industry, and various groups are working hard to retain or attract tourists, offering accommodation vouchers, free medical attention at hospitals and trying to demonstrate that despite the negative publicity and inconvenience, Thailand remains safe, friendly and hospitable in all its main tourist areas.

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