Some stranded Canadians to leave Bangkok with embassy's help

Dozens of Canadian tourists — stranded in Bangkok when anti-government protesters seized the city's two main airports — will fly out of Thailand on Tuesday, one traveller told the Canadian Press.

Dozens of Canadian tourists stranded in Bangkok when anti-government protesters seized the city's two main airports will fly out of Thailand on Tuesday, one traveller told the Canadian Press.

Thirty-seven Canadians with one tour group will depart Tuesday from a nearby naval base aboard a commercial airliner at their own expense, said tourist John McDonald, a former sports broadcaster. He said a deal was worked out by Canadian Embassy officials in Bangkok permitting the flight. 

"The embassy people listened to our pleas," McDonald said.

The news came as two Canadians attempting to leave the country were killed Tuesday when their van crashed en route from Bangkok to the airport in Phuket, 900 kilometres away. Four others, including three Canadians, were injured in the crash, according to Thai police. Their identities have not been released.

The seizures of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi and Don Meuang airports, which began a week ago, have stranded an estimated 300,000 foreigners, including Canadians.

About 30 planes have departed since runways were reopened on Sunday and an additional 50 flights were to be moved later Monday, some to protest-free airports elsewhere in Thailand, said Serirat Prasutanont, acting director of the Airports Authority of Thailand. The aim is to let stranded tourists, business people and others fly out of the country, Serirat said.

1,000-plus Canadians stranded

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said in a statement Monday that the government estimated "upwards of 1,000 Canadians" were affected by the airport shutdowns. The Canadian Embassy in Thailand has contacted many of those, including the 200 people registered with various tour groups, Cannon said.

The embassy "has been facilitating any immediate requirements, including exploring all options to get Canadians back to Canada," he said.

Other Thai airports in Phuket and Chiang Mai remain open, Cannon said, and are accessible by bus and train from Bangkok.

"A number of airlines have scheduled additional flights, and some Canadian travellers have already departed the country on commercial flights via both of these airports," Cannon said.

Stranded Canadians should contact their airline, tour group or travel agent to make alternate arrangements to leave Thailand, he advised.

McDonald said Canadian travellers were never in any immediate danger from the violence that has erupted periodically during the unrest, but have been growing fearful of the possibility the situation could quickly escalate.

Another tourist, physician William Myers, said many members of his Canadian travel group have been able to book seats on other airlines. He said some members of the group ran out of prescription medications, while another couple couldn't extend their travel insurance policy.

Myers said from what he's seen over the past several days, the country is polarized.

"It's probably going to escalate into something much more violent," he said.

The demonstrations have also disrupted cargo shipments to Thailand, paralyzing everything from courier companies to international mail. Exports aren't moving out of the country and many hotels and restaurants, which import a lot of specialized food, aren't getting fresh deliveries.

Compound protesters urged to join others at airports

Anti-government demonstrators load equipment, used in rallies at Government House, onto a truck in Bangkok on Monday. ((Kerek Wongsa/Reuters))
Anti-government protesters continued to block flights in and out of Bangkok on Monday, telling demonstrators to abandon the prime minister's compound and bolster ranks at the two main airports.

The People's Alliance for Democracy told members occupying the prime minister's office compound for more than three months to join compatriots at the airports, which they seized last week in their push to unseat the government.

Protesters believe the government is controlled by ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. They're calling for the resignation of current Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, the brother-in-law of Thaksin, who fled the country two years ago to escape corruption charges.

Protest leaders say weekend grenade attacks at the prime minister's compound, known as Government House, make it too dangerous for demonstrators to remain. At least 46 people were injured in the latest attack on Saturday night.

They instead directed members to join the almost week-old blockade of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport and Don Mueang domestic airport.

By dusk, only a couple of hundred demonstrators remained.

"We are not abandoning the site. We will end the siege at all sites at the same time," said Suriyasai Katasila, an alliance spokesman.

The violence continued late Monday with an explosion hitting protesters camped outside Bangkok's domestic airport. Surachet Sathitniramai of the Narenthorn Medical Centre said one person died and 22 were wounded.

So far, seven people have been killed and dozens injured in bomb attacks, clashes with police and street battles between government opponents and supporters.

Court ruling expected

Thailand's courts could offer demonstrators a constitutional solution to the impasse.

Thailand's Constitutional Court will meet Tuesday to decide whether to dissolve the ruling People Power Party (PPP) over allegations of vote fraud in December 2007. But the judges had to relocate after hundreds of pro-government demonstrators swarmed a court building.

If the court rules against Somchai, he and his senior ministers could be barred from politics for several years.

Such a decision wouldn't automatically mean new elections, either.

Most PPP members would switch allegiance to a new "shell" party established in case the court ruling went against the PPP. Called Puea Thai, the new party, would remain the majority player in the six-party governing coalition.

Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej is due to address the nation on Thursday, the eve of his 81st birthday. The revered monarch has traditionally remained neutral when it comes to political issues, but has recently been publicly critical of government policy.

With files from the Associated Press, the Canadian Press and Reuters