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Anarchy reigns in Thailand

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AFP

Thai anti-government protesters made themselves heard across the region Wednesday after forcing the closure of Bangkok's main airport.

BANGKOK - Thailand's powerful army chief stepped in to end the siege of Bangkok's main airport Wednesday, telling the prime minister to call new elections and mobs of anti-government protesters to disperse.

General Anupong Paojinda denied he was staging a coup, but with Bangkok's main airport and government offices now in the control of protesters, and lawlessness spreading, he said premier Somchai Wongsawat should hold new polls.

Somchai returned from the Apec summit in Lima, Peru, on Wednesday, arriving in Chiang Mai soon after Anupong had called on him to resign.

Meanwhile, anti-government protesters reacted to Anupong's comments by saying new elections would not solve Thailand's bitter political crisis and refusing to end their occupation of Suvarnabhumi International Airport.

Protesters Wednesday tightened their grip on the airport, where two people were hurt in a blast and thousands of travellers were left stranded on the third day of People's Alliance for Democracy's renewed protest campaign.

"The PAD must disperse immediately from every place they occupy," the general said.

The group launched its campaign in May, calling Somchai's government a corrupt puppet of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled in a 2006 coup and remains in exile after being convicted in absentia for corruption.

Grenade attacks elsewhere in the city deepened the sense of anarchy after demonstrators stormed the showpiece airport Tuesday night.

Suvarnabhumi Airport was shut Wednesday, with airport director Saereerat Prasutanont saying 3,000 passengers had been stranded and 402 flights cancelled.

Angry, tired and hungry passengers had earlier began leaving Suvarnabhumi on buses provided by airport authorities after many spent the night sleeping on baggage carousels and at check-in desks.

The government has tried to avoid a repeat of clashes between protesters and police on October 7 that left two people dead and some 500 injured.

Somchai's administration has been effectively paralysed since protesters occupied the prime minister's offices in central Bangkok in August, forcing him to work from makeshift premises at Bangkok's old Don Muang airport.

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