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"We regret the incident and will not allow it to happen again"  Dec 17, 2008

Newly elected Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Wednesday he was sorry for the damage done to the country by the week-long occupation of Bangkok's two airports.

He spoke just hours before he received a royal proclamation which officially appointed him as the 27th Thai prime minister.

The Tourism Council of Thailand said Wednesday that 3 million tourists will skip the country this winter, costing 109 billion baht and thousands of jobs.

Council president Kongkrit Hiranyakit directly blamed seizure of Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports, which stranded 350,000 foreign tourists in the country.

"We regret the incident and will not allow it to happen again," the newly elected prime minister Mr Abhisit told Thai tourism industry representatives on Wednesday.

During the airport closures Mr Abhisit stayed silent and did not condemn the action by the People's Alliance for Democracy. One of the PAD leaders is a member of his Democracy party, which now controls a majority in parliament.

On Wednesday he defended the military for not intervening to clear the airport because the army had been put in a "difficult position". He did not elaborate.

Mr Abhisit personally gave tacit support to the PAD when he showed up at the funeral of a PAD supporter killed during clashes with police outside parliament on Oct 7. He also visited injured PAD protesters.

Tourism accounts for an estimated six per cent of the country's gross domestic product, and industry experts have warned that tourist numbers could fall by half next year - roughly seven million visitors - because of the damaging airport closures.

"I am fully aware that the tourism sector was hit hard and it had an unreasonable loss of revenue," said Mr Abhisit. But he stopped short of promising government aid. Because of the severe damage to tourism, "Therefore I will create national unity and national reconciliation," he added.

Hotel occupancy has already plummeted after tourists cancelled Thai trips, scared off by television images of trapped travellers sleeping on baggage trolleys and PAD guards with wooden stakes stationed at the airports.

There was some help for the industry at hand, though.

Southeast Asia's leading budget airline said on Tuesday it will give away 100,000 plane tickets as part of a regional marketing campaign to woo tourists to Thailand after that nation's political turmoil.

AirAsia said it was working with the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) to send the message "it is now safe to travel back to the Land of Smiles."

The airline said the free tickets would be good for travel to Bangkok from Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and China as well as for flights within Thailand. AirAsia was also offering another 400,000 sites to other destinations at its website, including free tickets out of Thailand to nearby tourist centres such as Bali and thje airline's home country of Malaysia.

Tickets can only be obtained at the AirAsia web site through Friday. They will be good for travel between Jan 6 and next March 31.

"We regret the incident and will not allow it to happen again"
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva / Image via

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