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Thai Anti-Government Protesters Focus on Airports


Anti-government protesters abandoned their occupation of a government administration building in the Thai capital Bangkok, and are focusing on the airports they have blockaded. As Ron Corben reports from Bangkok, the shift comes ahead of a court decision this week that may oust the current government.

Leaders from the People's Alliance for Democracy, or PAD, asked protesters to leave the government office Monday afternoon, ending a siege that began in August.

PAD leaders told supporters to move to the two airports the group has occupied and shut down over the past week, saying it was no longer safe for protesters to remain at the office building. Over the past few weeks there have been several small explosions at the compound that have resulted in injuries among protesters and at least two deaths.

The protests are part of a campaign against the government led by the People's Power Party. The PAD accuses the government of acting on behalf of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The closure of the city's international and domestic airports is now in its sixth day. Tens of thousands of travelers are stranded, and there are estimates the occupation costs the economy $85 million a day.

Attention is now shifting to a constitutional court decision that is expected Tuesday or Wednesday. The court could rule that the PPP and its coalition partners must be dissolved for campaign law violations before the December 2007 election.

Chris Baker is an author and commentator on Thai politics.

"It seems very likely they will dissolve the PPP and possibly other parties; at which point the government falls. What happens after that is less clear. You would still have a functioning parliament. Therefore the next constitutional step would be for that parliament to select another prime minister," he said.

But Baker said the opposition may attempt to block the vote for a new prime minister.

The PPP has already created a new party identity, which could allow it retain control of the government until a general election is held.

PPP party spokesman Kudeb Saikrajang said he is confident the government will remain in power.

"The strategy is clear; we have set up a new party, Puan Thai, to welcome members of PPP to join them en mass so that we can continue our majority in parliament. Anyway we don't give up. We will let the newcomers to replace us right now," che said.

A ruling against the PPP could prompt the protesters to end their airport blockades. But there is concern in Bangkok that government supporters might become violent, because some have said any verdict that ousts the government would be a "coup by judiciary," which they would oppose.

Like former Prime Minister Thaksin, most of the PPP's support comes from the working class and rural communities. The PAD is largely supported by the urban middle class, which considers Mr. Thaksin corrupt.

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