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Petra Droege looks on as husband Peter explains the delay

Phuket Paralysed: How Stranded Tourists Suffered

Saturday, August 30, 2008
NEWS plus ANALYSIS

UNHAPPY tourists began arriving at Phuket International Airport on Saturday in the aftermath of anti-goverment protests that have frozen the island's tourist industry indefinitely.

Airport officials announced in mid-afternoon that the airport would remain closed until 6am Sunday at the earliest. Then they said they were unable to set anytimetable for a resumption.

So far more than 118 flights in and out have been cancelled or diverted.

Protestors dispersed during the night but before noon, about 100 were back at the airport. The leader was named as Metree Kongdang.

He told the media at Phuket airport that the Peoples Alliance for Democracy wanted Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej to resign before Phuket airport can be reopened.

An Airports of Thailand spokesperson said an update on the situation would be provided at 3pm. Departing tourists should consult their resorts and not go to the airport today.

A meeting between the AoT and the PAD was joined just before noon by Phuket's Chief of Police, Major General Apirak Hongtong.

Phuket usually handles about 15,000 passengers a day.

Earlier, inside the terminal and with a long wait ahead, German visitor Petra Droege asked: ''Do you know why this happened? I don't understand it.''

She was one of thousands of inconvenienced tourists who failed to comprehend the logic behind the political demonstration that shut down the airport on Phuket from 5pm yesterday, after a siege by demonstrators.

Airport General Manager Wing Commander Wicha Nurnlop also had no explanation for the action that forced at least 30 overseas flight to divert, with more to change direction today.

He expected flights would be able to resume after noon but offiicials later revised the likely time of the resumption to 6pm. The presence of demonstrators, however, made that uncertain.

A Phuket resident returning from a holiday in the US called from Bangkok to say that notices were being posted in the airport there saying that there would be no flights to Phuket or Krabi before 6pm.

At Phuket airport, Petra Droege's husband Peter was on his mobile telephone, try to organise a replacement booking on an alternative flight to the one the couple were supposed to catch back to Germany today.

Mrs Droege, a nurse, was due back at work on Monday but, like thousands of others, she will have to reorganise her life because of Friday's unexpected protest by the Peoples Alliance for Democracy.

The returning Phuket resident, stuck in Bangkok and contemplating catching a bus home, said: ''I am just as anti-government as the next guy but even before this, the PAD had become truly disruptive. I just don't get it.''

Phuket airport was a desolate sight early this morning. The window glass on the entrance security booth, where parking cards are issued, has been shattered.

No protestors could be seen, just a handful of weary-looking security staff.

The message from the international and domestic arrival information screens was simple: Cancelled, cancelled, cancelled, over and over.

At the Thai Air Asia counter, a small group of would-be passengers sat on their luggage, waiting.

Over at Thai Airways, the number of people arriving at the airport in the hope of finding a flight was beginning to grow.

It looked like being a long day for many of them. A sign on the counter said: AIRPORT CLOSED DUE TO POLITICAL REASON.

Above the counter another improvised sign advised travellers that the 7.25am and 9.35am flights had been cancelled.

The notice continued: ''Further details will be updated as soon as possible. Our apologies. Thank you for your understanding.''

That was the difficult part. Understanding just what had happened and why was impossible today for thousands of tourists, resort managers, embassy representatives and government officials.

Phuket's Days of Drama:

Phuket Siege Lifts For Lone Flights to Bangkok
With international flights bound for Phuket being diverted and the island's airport shut down, a special plea was made for PAD leaders to allow one flight to beat the blockade and carry stranded passengers to Bangkok.

Phuket Siege Lifts For Lone Flights to Bangkok

Phuket Airport Invasion: Night of Uncertainty
No flights in or out of Phuket until 6am on Saturday. Why is Phuket's tourism industry now part of a political dispute? That was the question being asked as anti-government protestors continued to occupy the island's international airport, forcing a halt to all flights.

Phuket Airport Invasion: Night of Uncertainty

Phuket Siege Latest: International Flights Diverted
Flights in and out of Phuket are not likely to resume before Saturday morning. Phuket airport was tonight in the hands of PAD anti-government protestors after 30 international flights were turned away.

Phuket Siege Latest: International Flights Diverted

Siege of Phuket Airport Blow by Blow
PAD protestors besiege Phuket International Airport; Thai Airways suspends all flights nationally; Reports of protestors on tarmac; All flights halted; Governor in crisis talks with PAD leaders; Phuket police chief calls in reinforcements.

The Siege of Phuket Airport Blow by Blow

Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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I have booked a Phuket holiday leaving on Monday... hopefully everything will be back in order by then. <b>Editor:</b> Let's hope so. The sun is shining here. At present, though, it's impossible to give a guarantee about the weather or Monday's flights. . . hope you make it.

Posted by Anonymous on August 30, 2008 11:06

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Well I am from the UK and I flew to Hong Kong about a week ago and my flight was delayed 26 hours because of the typhoon. Now I am on the way from Singapore to Phuket and it looks like I am losing yet another day of my holiday...realistically the airport won't open today, will it!!! <b>Editor: </b> A restart today is unlikely. Enjoy Singapore!

Posted by Alex on August 30, 2008 11:59

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Will the last person to leave Phuket please turn out the light! What a completely stupid way to make a point. Hasn't Phuket been through enough? Tsunamis, plane crashes, SARS, now this.

Posted by helen on August 30, 2008 17:57

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Once again politicians abuse the Thai people, the leaders on both sides are just in it for the money, a good way to get the money is to trick the big mass who are uneducated and unaware of the consequences of their actions.

Posted by jojo on August 30, 2008 20:06

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AIRPORT CLOSED DUE TO POLITICAL REASON
This is the stupidest reason ever heard.
How can a country's airport close because of some stupid protesters? What happened to Thailand?? Shame on you!

Posted by galexy on August 31, 2008 01:18

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We have learnt that you can't rely on the authorities to do the right thing, but surely all the Thai businessmen and women who stand to lose money are able to take a stand against this misguided action. Whatever their political views, they must realise that this is very bad for Phuket's image as a tourist haven. Have they no power? Don't they have well-placed contacts who can influence the situation? I can't believe they can't do ANYTHING when this is hitting them where it hurts most

Posted by Resident on August 31, 2008 07:52

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I am resident in Phuket and was due to fly back in on Saturday morning but of course, couldn`t. Instead I had a 12 hour taxi ride back, completely wasting Sunday.

When will local people understand the full ramifications of illogical actions like these? The financial impact on local businesses will be enormous, and who are the losers? Its the same with the ridiculous bans on alcohol sales that happen so often. What possible good does it do to non voting foreigners and again who are the losers?

Local business and local Thai people is the answer.

Some foresight and logic, please.

Posted by Manatee on September 1, 2008 11:01

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hi.. i`m watching the protests with great interest... i`m due to fly to phuket on saturday from ireland ... do you expect any recurrence of airport closures or further protests? <b>Editor:</b> Hello Alan. Another airport blockade seems highly unlikely, but the national political landscape remains uncertain. It is to be hoped innocent tourists are not made to suffer again. However, there can be no cast-iron guarantees at this stage.

Posted by alan on September 2, 2008 01:14


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