Thai Airports Reopen After Court Ousts PM

Anti-government demonstrators prepare hot water for supporters at Suvarnabhumi airport Friday, Nov. 28, 2008, in Bangkok, Thailand.  Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat has declared a state of emergency for Thailand's airports under siege by the People's Alliance for Democracy.  (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

Anti-government demonstrators prepare hot water for supporters at Suvarnabhumi airport Friday, Nov. 28, 2008, in Bangkok, Thailand. Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat has declared a state of emergency for Thailand's airports under siege by the People's Alliance for Democracy. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) -- The first commercial flight in a week arrived in Bangkok on Wednesday as anti-government protesters ended their siege of the country's two main airports, declaring victory after Thailand's prime minister was ousted by a court ruling.

Thousands of jubilant protesters streamed out of the Suvarnabhumi international airport in cars and trucks, while others cleaned up the mess that had accumulated during their weeklong takeover. Similar scenes were witnessed at the domestic Don Muang airport.

"See you later when the country needs us!" one of them shouted while leaving, as other protesters waved and honked.

The departure of the People's Alliance for Democracy from the airport ended the country's immediate crisis, which had virtually severed Thailand's air links to the outside world for a week, and stranded more than 300,000 tourists.

The airport received its first commercial airliner - a flight by the national airline Thai Airways from the resort island of Phuket - at 2:15 p.m. (0715 GMT). Six Thai Airways flights were scheduled to leave Suvarnabhumi later Wednesday for Sydney, New Delhi, Tokyo, Frankfurt, Seoul and Copenhagen. Regional budget carrier AirAsia said it will resume operations to and from Suvarnabhumi on Friday.

Thai Airways also planned to resume its full schedule of 30 flights a day out of the domestic Don Muang airport on Thursday.

Officials had earlier planned to reopen Suvarnabhumi on Dec. 15, but advanced the date to Friday and then Wednesday after protesters left quickly, handing back the airports in good shape.

The flight from Phuket parked near a Thai Airways crew center, about 1 mile (2 kilometers) from the main building, where facilities including the docking bridge and baggage carousels were still not fully operational.

Thai Airways staff gathered on the tarmac applauded as the passengers came down the stairs from the aircraft. Taxis waited outside to drive them to the city.

Dale Northway, 34, from Manchester, England, said he was supposed to fly back to England on Nov. 29, but didn't mind the four-day delay.

"Phuket is a holiday destination, not a bad place to get stuck. It didn't even feel like being stuck," he said. However, he said he would have been upset had he missed his son's birthday on Dec. 10.

Taxi driver Chum Aaryaphom said he was happy to see the passengers. "The airport is about 30 percent of my business. I'm angry. (But) it's over so let's move on."

In swiftly unfolding developments Tuesday, the country's Constitutional Court brought down the government by disbanding the three top ruling coalition parties, finding them guilty of electoral fraud. It also banned Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat and other top leaders from politics for five years.

The ruling satisfied the People's Alliance for Democracy, which has been campaigning for months to topple the government. But the alliance warned it would be on the streets again if a new government tried to return to its past policies.

The months of protests and political uncertainty have hammered Thailand's economy and its vital tourism industry. The crisis also severely dented Thailand's image. At least six people have been killed and scores injured in clashes in recent months.

On Wednesday, a meeting among the three ousted parties endorsed Deputy Prime Minister Chaowarat Chandeerakul as the caretaker prime minister.

Members of the three parties who were not banned from politics are expected to form new parties that will form an alliance with three smaller parties of the outgoing coalition.

Chaowarat told reporters he was consulting with House Speaker Chai Chidchob to hold a parliamentary session on Dec. 8 and Dec. 9 to select a new full-time prime minister.

But with the Chaowarat group's parliamentary majority intact, any new government will likely be very similar to the outgoing one, minus some key players, raising fears of renewed protests.

Charnvit Kasetsiri, a historian, said the end of the airport siege has provided little more than temporary relief.

"It is nothing more than an intermission. It is not over until the two sides of the political spectrum can reconcile and the prospect of that happening is very bleak," he said.

The protest group wants to abandon the system of one-person, one-vote, and instead have a mixed system in which most representatives are chosen by profession and social group.

It is also seeking to purge the nation of the influence of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, accusing him and his cronies of massive corruption.

Thaksin was ousted by a September 2006 military coup, but the alliance alleges that governments voted into office since then have been proxies for the exiled Thaksin.

Thailand's revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who turns 81 on Friday, will give his traditional birthday eve speech on Thursday, and many Thais will be looking for guidance from him on healing the rift in the society.

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Associated Press reporters Ambika Ahuja, Mike Casey and Vijay Joshi contributed to this report.

© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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