Friday, August 29, 2008

Thailand protests shuts airports

Hundreds of Australian travellers remain in limbo in Thailand after protesters seeking to overthrow the government have forced the closure of three airports.

The resort island of Phuket was the first airport to shut its doors, followed by Krabi and Hat Yai in the country's south as protests spread across the country on Friday.

Jetstar diverted its Sydney-Phuket flight to Bangkok on Friday night.

A spokeswoman says Australian passengers booked on the return flight, from Phuket to Sydney, had been provided with accommodation as they wait for the airport to re-open.

The spokeswoman could not specify how long the 265 passengers will have to wait.

"(Passengers) in Phuket have been accommodated, if they haven't been able to remain in their hotels that they were already staying in," the spokeswoman told AAP on Saturday.

"Once we've got the advice from DFAT

(Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) and the airport is open then we will know that we can operate out.

"That's the situation until we have advice that we can operate out."

More than 5,000 protesters invaded Phuket International Airport on Friday, storming its two runways and preventing passengers from going in or out, according to an Agence France-Presse report.

The low-cost carrier flies between Sydney and Phuket three times per week.

The airport protests came as thousands of activists have laid siege to Bangkok's Government House calling for Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej to resign.

DFAT updated its travel advice for Thailand on Friday night to highlight the risk posed by the political unrest, on top of long-standing warnings about the threat of a terrorist attack.

"There are on-going large political demonstrations in Bangkok, a number of which have been disruptive and have blocked access to key buildings and roads," the department warns.

"The demonstrations have also affected access to some airports including in Bangkok, Phuket, Hat Yai and Krabi and disrupted some rail and air services."

Thailand's southern provinces continue to have a "Do not travel" rating, while for the whole country tourists are urged to show a "High degree of caution".

© 2008 AAP

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