BANGKOK – Thousands of tourists were left stranded today in Bangkok after anti-government protesters stormed the terminal of one of Asia’s busiest airports.
“There are a lot of people with sticks and baseball bats. They looked ready for a fight. We don’t know what’s going on,” Belgian Ben Creemers said as People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) supporters rampaged round the $4 billion (2.6 billion pound) new terminal.
Airline and airport officials simply melted away, pulling down the shutters and deserting their posts at the approach of members of the PAD, the street movement that has occupied the seat of government since August.
“The flights are cancelled. That’s all we know. The passengers don’t know what’s going on. We’re the airline and even we don’t know what’s going on,” one attendant at the Thai Airways check-in desk said.
Security officials cancelled all flights out of the airport, which is the gateway for 14 million tourists a year, after the latest attempt by the PAD’s six-month campaign to oust Thailand’s elected government.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” said Australian tourist Steve as he wheeled a trolley of suitcases through one of the exits to the futuristic Suvarnabhumi airport building, which opened in 2006, days after Thailand’s last military coup.
“We were going home and suddenly everything came to a halt,” he said, with a disconsolate shrug of his shoulders.
For thousands of travelers, there was no information about the situation at the airport, which serves 125,000 passengers a day. Its name in Thai means ‘Golden Land.’
There were chaotic scenes as the airport’s public address system blared out barely audible warnings for people to leave “for security reasons” even as thousands more passengers entered the building.
Information screens continued to display flight information as normal as though the PAD protesters, armed with stakes, baseball bats and, in one case, a samurai sword, were not even there.
“It’s all very exciting,” said Carl, one Australian tourist who appeared to be taking it in his stride. “It’s some sort of protest. We want to go home, but we’ve no idea what we’re supposed to do.”