South Africans stranded in Thailand

South Africans are among the tourists stranded at the international airport in Bangkok after it was stormed by anti-government protesters, diplomatic officials said on Wednesday.

“We are aware of people and are in contact with them,” said Eben van Rensburg, a counsellor at South Africa’s embassy in Thailand.

Agence France-Press reported that about 8 000 protesters from the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) movement against Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat stormed Suvarnabhumi Airport, in Bangkok, on Tuesday night.

Two people were hurt in a blast and thousands of travellers were left stranded by the demonstrations which shut down the airport and blocked access roads, said the news agency.

Foreign Affairs department spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa said a few requests for assistance from stranded South Africans had been received.

“These people were given consular assistance by our mission in Thailand.

“We are made to understand that there are two other international airports in Thailand to which the Thai authorities have been diverting passengers,” he said.

Van Rensburg said the embassy had only telephonic contact with the South African families contacting it from the airport.

The exact number of South Africans stranded was not known.

“The airport is closed. There are no flights going out or coming in,” said Van Rensburg.

He said Thai authorities were trying to accommodate South Africans who had been on their way to the airport to catch flights.

There were also South Africans stranded in the airport itself. “They are tired,” said Van Rensburg.

He said Thai authorities were trying to move these people into hotels.

“The Thai authorities are assisting. We can only telephonically talk.

“South Africans are in hotels. They are comfortable and not in danger.”

Van Rensburg said 50 000 South Africans visit Thailand annually.

The airport’s director Saereerat Prasutanont said on Wednesday that 3 000 passengers were stranded at the terminal and 78 outbound and incoming flights had been cancelled.

Stranded tourists had apparently spent the night sleeping on baggage carousels and at check-in desks with nothing to eat or drink since the protesters stormed in.

PAD supporters apparently later handed out sandwiches, biscuits and drinks.

Agence France-Presse said authorities had begun evacuating passengers on buses on Wednesday and a queue of people was immediately formed as evacuation vehicles trickled in.

The PAD is a loose coalition comprising royalists, Bangkok’s old elite and the middle class.

The organisation has apparently accused Somchai’s government of being a corrupt puppet of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was removed in a 2006 coup and remained in exile to avoid corruption charges. – AFP

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