Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Neighbourly warning

Bangkok Post

Neighbouring countries are warning their citizens to stay away from Thailand, just as the main tourist season was starting.

The Philippine government on Wednesday urged its citizens to defer non-essential travel to Thailand because of anti-government demonstrations.

Foreign department spokesman Claro Cristobal said the warning was "in consideration of the Filipino travelers' safety and convenience."

Taiwan, a major source of winter travellers to Thailand, advised Taiwanese who are in Thailand or those who plan to travel there to check with airlines before going to the airport.

At least two Taiwan airlines' flights which were due to return to Taipei Tuesday evening were cancelled.

Singapore said citizens should postpone any travel to Thailand unless they had "a pressing need to travel".

The British had a similar warning on the Foreign Office website: "If you plan to visit Thailand you should consider the present situation when making your decision."

The US did not advise against travel to Thailand but warned: "We wish to remind American citizens that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence."

"The Chinese Embassy advises that Chinese citizens planning to visit Thailand should postpone their plans," said a travel advisory posted at the Chinese Embassy.

Japan echoed:

"The damage done is huge," said Chaisak Angsawan, director general of the Department of Aviation.

Suvarnabhumi handles around 370 flights a day, all of which have been cancelled or diverted to other airports.

The only flight out by late afternoon on Wednesday was Flight 809 of Iran Airlines. Demonstrators allowed it to leave as it was taking 416 Thai Muslims to Teheran before flying to Saudi Arabia for the haj.

"It's not fair," said Vanessa Sloan, 31, from Florida, who arrived at the airport on Tuesday night and was supposed to fly on to Chiang Mai on Wednesday.

"We spent the night here after all the check-in staff ran away," she said. "No one is here to help."

Airport director Serirat Prasutanond estimated losses in airport operations at 50 million baht per day in landing fees and the like.

Thai Airways International cancelled all outbound flights. Sixteen international flights in the air were diverted to Don Mueang international airport while three others from the Middle East and Europe landed at Utapao naval base in Chon Buri.

Singapore Airlines cancelled all its Bangkok flights. It said an assessment will be made later about flight operations beyond Wednesday.

According to foreign reports, flights bound for Bangkok from Japan were mostly cancelled or returned to Japan.

"I have been informed by Thai Airways that 3,000 passengers are stranded at the terminal now," airport director Saereerat Prasutanont said.

Police said 8,000 demonstrators, most wearing yellow clothes in a traditional symbol of loyalty to the revered monarchy, had camped out at the three-billion-dollar airport overnight.

Thanit Sorat, vice chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI) and chairman of logistic group under the FTI, said that sealing off Suvarnabhumi airport had stopped all air cargo operations. He estimated the losses to the business sector at one billion baht per day.

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