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Thai Protests End, Uncertainty Remains

Anti-government protestors ended their siege of Thailand’s major airports after a court ruling forced Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat from office. Stranded air travelers and Thai goods meant for export have begun moving again, easing a standoff that fueled political tensions and hurt the nation’s economy. Resolution of the crisis that has gripped Thailand for months hopefully will follow.

After occupying government buildings in Bangkok the People’s Alliance for Democracy seized the city’s two main airports on November 26. Their action forced airport managers to suspend operations, stranding outbound travelers in Bangkok and inbound travelers outside the country. There was little violence, though travelers grew more upset by the day at being unable to leave.

Protestors demanded that Mr. Somchai step down and changes be made in the nation’s law on voting rights. They said the prime minister acted on behalf of his brother-in-law and predecessor Thaksin Sinawatra, who was forced from office in 2006 amid charges of corruption.

Thailand’s Constitutional Court ruled December 2nd that 3 political parties in the coalition now ruling the country had violated election laws in parliamentary voting last year and must be dissolved. Mr. Somchai and other party leaders were barred from politics for 5 years. Deputy Prime Minister Chaowarat Chanweerakul is the interim head of government and will be until parliament elects a new leader in the uncertain weeks ahead.

There is more at stake in the dispute than political office. The crisis has crippled the nation’s key tourism industry, with government officials estimating a million travel workers could lose their jobs because of the disruption and damage to Thailand’s reputation as an untroubled tourist destination.

There are also signs that the farm and manufacturing sectors are suffering because of the inability to ship their goods to foreign markets. With a global recession looming because of the international financial crisis, these economic troubles couldn’t come at a worse time.

For these and other reasons, the United States urges all parties to respect the rule of law and work together for the good of the country.