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Tensions Grow Between Thai Protesters, Police

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Tensions Grow Between Thai Protesters, Police


Tensions Grow Between Thai Protesters, Police

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From NPR News, this is Weekend Edition. I'm Liane Hansen. Thousands of supporters of Thailand's government turned out for a rally today to counter the anti-government protesters who have laid siege to the international airport. Today, Thai police ordered the protesters to disperse, but so far, the order and threats of arrest and imprisonment have been ignored. NPR's Michael Sullivan is in Bangkok. Michael, what was the scene at the rally today?

MICHAEL SULLIVAN: It was a sea of red shirts at the rally today, Liane. I mean, there was probably about 10,000 people filling the square outside city hall. And the crowd just applauded wildly as these figures were denouncing these airport occupations. And some of them were actually warning that these red shirted people could move against those people at the airport if the police refused to do so.

I think today's rally and a grenade attack early this morning on a site occupied by the PAD, the Popular Alliance - the People's Alliance for Democracy rather, the prime minister's compound in the city that's been occupied for about four months. I think that grenade attack and I think this rally were both overt signs to these people of the People's Alliance for Democracy, that they better leave the airport soon or else someone would help them leave.

HANSEN: Describe the scene at the airport.

SULLIVAN: The scene at the airport is completely different. I mean, the scene at the airport is almost festive. You've got people there handing out free food and free water and free clothes, even free clean underwear for those people who have been at the airport for too many days. It's very orderly.

There's a grand stand, and there's people singing, and there's people sometimes dancing. And there's speakers there denouncing the government, of course, who they want to leave. They want the Prime Minister, Somchai Wongsawat, to step down. They want his government to go away, and they want new elections to be held.

HANSEN: How long do you think the protesters can hold out?

SULLIVAN: I think they can probably hold out indefinitely. I think the real question here is, are the police going to move against them? Will the police have the support of the army if they do so? And if not, will the prime minister, who is currently residing in Chiang Mai about 400 miles north of here, will the prime minister resign if he can't resolve this crisis?

Nobody knows what the answer is, but if the police move against these demonstrators, they are well defended at this point. I've seen lots of them with metal rods. I've seen, in some cases, improvised explosive devices. I've seen golf clubs. I've seen all sorts of weapons. And they built these big barricades on the approaches to the airport. So if the police tried to come in heavy, these people have been preparing for this for about four days. It's going to get ugly one way or another. They're not going to walk away voluntarily.

HANSEN: And briefly, Michael, what's happening to the travelers who are stranded with the airport closed?

SULLIVAN: Most of them are still stranded. The Thai authority said there are probably around 100,000 people who have been stranded here. Now, some of them are now being bused to this military base, Udapao, which is a Vietnam-era military base about 90 miles east of the capital.

But, you know, this is just a military airfield. It's not built to handle international flights. And so, only a few flights are getting in and out every day, and I'm told that it's just chaos there. I mean, there's just one small terminal building. There's just one scanner there. So you can imagine the crowds of people trying to just jam through that. It's not working very well, but some people are getting out.

HANSEN: NPR's Michael Sullivan in Bangkok. Michael, thank you.

SULLIVAN: You're welcome, Liane.

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