Thailand’s government may have imposed emergency law over Bangkok’s besieged Suvarnabhumi airport, but it was not stopping a steady stream of people driving up on Saturday to support the anti-government push.
Rather than a passport, those wishing to get through need only flash a plastic PAD handclapper or the yellow scarf of the royalist protest movement
Police armed with automatic rifles blocked one road to the $4 billion (2.6 billion pound) complex, one of the world’s largest airports, but were totally absent from other routes, including the main five-lane expressway leading directly to the blockaded terminal.
People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) “security guards” man what is essentially a border crossing between the rest of Thailand, nominally under the control of a government that has moved to the northern city of Chiang Mai, 700 km away, and the airport run by the rebel street movement.
Rather than a passport, those wishing to get through need only flash a plastic PAD handclapper or the yellow scarf of the royalist protest movement.
Yellow is the “birthday colour” of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Thailand’s revered monarch whom the PAD say they are protecting from a plot by ousted and exiled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to turn the country into a republic.
At the checkpoint, a makeshift barricade of razor wire, tyres and a fire truck, cars wait ten deep as PAD sentries ranging from pretty young women to gnarled, toothless old men check trunks and glove compartments for weapons.
“We just want the protest to stay safe,” said Kean Luaron, an English-speaking kindergarten school director assigned to the outermost barricade to explain to bemused tourists that they will not be flying home any time soon.
Many of the vehicles are luxury Mercedes or BMW sedans, reflecting the bulk of the PAD support among Bangkok’s affluent middle-class and elite. Occasionally, a 52-seater coach arrives to be flagged through to huge applause.
Some drivers hand over parcels of food or drink.
Other guards, armed with iron stakes and in police riot helmets, scan the horizon with binoculars for signs of approaching police or the red shirts of pro-government gangs constantly rumoured to be massing in the distance.
Television footage this week has shown PAD guards shooting at police and the “red team,” as they are known, suggesting only the most foolhardy opponent would try to take on the PAD defences.
As with nearly all PAD devotees, Kean denied any violent intent and professed ultimate dedication to the cause, despite the crippling effect it is having on Thailand’s export- and tourism-dependent economy.
“We have only our hands and our hearts,” Kean said. “If they come to kill us, we will just put our hands together and stay here. We are all willing to die.”
(Editing by Darren Schuettler and Valerie Lee)