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Baltic citizens stranded by Thai turmoil

  • 2008-12-03
  • By Matt Withers

TALLINN - Hundreds of Baltic citizens were marooned in protest-riddled Thailand, unable to fly home due to the closure of Bangkok's besieged main airports.
According to information released by the Estonian foreign ministry, a total of 224 Estonians are known to have been affected by the standstill 's 164 of whom were only able to escape after protesters called off the blockade. About 60 Estonians were flown home via alternate flights on Nov. 30.
Thai protesters called off their siege of the airport at 10:00 a.m. on Dec. 3. Flights will reportedly be able to resume their normal schedules as of Dec. 4.

The first groups able to return home included a 20-member tourist group that was transported to Tallinn via Helsinki by Finnair, and a 40-strong group from the grain farming community who flew back via Frankfurt with Lufthansa.

Many Estonians remained stranded in the country, however, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is currently monitoring their situation and making sure all of the visitors have managed to secure an evacuative flight.
"According to Estonian Foreign Ministry data there are 164 Estonians in Thailand. According to Virachai Techavijit, the Estonian honorary consul in Thailand, seven of them will be leaving Thailand shortly," Helen Rits, a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry told The Baltic Times on Dec. 1.

"The Estonian Foreign Ministry is in contact with travel agencies and with its partners from other European Union member states in order to find opportunities for people to return home," she added.
Meanwhile, the Latvian Foreign Ministry has reported that 11 of their citizens were also stranded, while the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry has declared that 23 Lithuanian nationals were in the same situation.
"Ten people cancelled their trips, and three people came back from Thailand yesterday. Tomorrow, on Dec. 2, four people are planning to fly back," a representative from the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs told The Baltic Times.

"We also know 11 people are still there and are planning to come back on Dec. 6 's it's information from one tourism company, but these people did not register in our consular register," he said.
Problems began on Nov. 25 when the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) anti-government protestors stormed Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport following violent rioting in the capital.
The PAD inundated airport was forced to freeze operations and ground all flights, leaving some 100,000 foreign tourists without access to the region's primary international flight hub. The following day the Thai capital's main domestic airport, Don Muang, was also seized by the PAD protestors, severely restricting the outflow of stranded tourists.

Furthermore, alarms were raised on Nov. 30 when explosions were reported at both of the occupied airports, but sources have indicated that the incidents were attacks against and not by the anti-government protestors. The PAD occupation of both airports has been non-hostile, with no reports of tourists having been harmed or mistreated.

The disorder caused by the protests has also caused Thailand's remaining airports to become overburdened by fleeing tourists, slowing down evacuation efforts.
Meanwhile, Thailand's Airport Authority had negotiated a deal that will allow 88 empty planes to fly out of the besieged airports and help relieve the tourist-swamped regional airports.
The protests were called off on Dec. 3 after a court banned the prime minister from politics.