British tourists stranded in Thailand face uncertainty over when they will be able to get out after the Foreign Office said it would not charter flights to evacuate those unable to get home.
Although other countries including France and Spain have already organised charter aircraft to fly their citizens home, Bill Rammell, the Foreign Office minister, said that although this could help it was not a solution.
“The key issue is the fact the two airports in Bangkok are closed and therefore you’ve effectively got planes stacking up and not being able to get slots.
“The situation is tense and we are monitoring events hour by hour,” he said.
“I spoke to the Thai ambassador on Friday, our embassy is in regular contact with the government, the police, the army and the palace, strongly urging the Thai authorities to take action to enable British tourists to reach those airports that are still operating safely,” he said.
Anti-government protesters, who have occupied Suvarnabhumi and the domestic Don Mueang airports since Tuesday, have said they will not leave until the government resigns.
Scandinavian and other airlines have rejected proposals to fly to U-Tapao airbase, used by US during the Indo-China war to operate B52 bombers.
More than 100,000 tourists, including at least 5000 Britons, are trapped in the country. Many have been heading for provincial airports in Phuket, Chiang Mai and Had Yai near the Malaysian border in the hope of catching regional flights. Others are catching buses and trains to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
Thai Airlines opened up U-Tapao airbase in Chonburi province 120 miles east of Bangkok last week and have said they are operating 18 flights out daily. The only European destinations on offer were Copenhagen and Frankfurt. But the airline said it was also flying to Beijing, Hong Kong, Seoul and Sydney.
For the last two days there has been pandemonium at the site, as many tourists, many without tickets, sought to get home.
Some 20,000 people turned up at the airport on Saturday with just 4,000 seats available, a Thai Airways spokesman said.
Traffic was backup for two miles, which hundreds of passengers walked dragging their suitcases with them. Tents had to be erected outside the airport to shield the overflow passengers from the sun. Many slept under umbrellas on grass verges.
Thai airlines are telling passengers not to go to the airport without a confirmed booking. They are also telling people not to turn up at hastily erected check-in desks at hotels in Bangkok unless these booking are confirmed.
“They need go to our offices in person to ensure they have a seat,” a Thai Airways spokesman said.
The capital is still rife with rumours of a military coup. But General Anuporn Paochinda, who last week advised the government step down to avoid further confrontation, has consistently denied he will intervene.
The government of Somchai Wongsawat, the brother-in-law of Thaksin Shinawatra, the ousted Premier who was convicted of corruption and banned from Britain, has been staying in the northern capital of Chiang Mai since his return from an Asia-Pacific summit in Peru.
Tomorrow the Constitution Court will meet to decide whether to dissolve the democratically elected government People’s Power Party for alleged vote-buying. The yellow shirted members of the People’s Alliance for Democracy appear to be unafraid of the police and many appear more than willing to attack them.
But they are concerned about the redshirted members of the United Front for Democracy, who support Thaksin Shinawatra. The UDD staged a mass rally in Bangkok to demand the police open the airports. In the past they have threatened to take the law into their own hands and take back the airports themselves.
At Suvarnabhumi airport a member of PAD said: “If the police let the red ‘King Thaksin’s Warriors’ through then there will be deaths for sure.”
On Saturday night a grenade blast injured more than 50 protesters who have been occupying the grounds of Government House.