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Thai protests delay USF officials

Though anti-government protests in Thailand have shut down two major airports and stranded about 300,000 foreigners in the past week, they did little more than delay President Judy Genshaft and USF Health faculty members’ travel plans in the country.

Genshaft, along with College of Medicine Dean Dr. Stephen Klasko, Board of Trustees chairwoman Rhea Law and members of the Division of Infectious Diseases, visited Bangkok to finalize plans to develop a student exchange program with SrinakharinWirot University (SWU) and attend a medical conference.

Klasko was scheduled to depart Monday morning, but the International Airport’s closure caused him to detour about 120 miles southeast of Bangkok to the U-Tapao Navy airfield, USF spokesman Michael Hoad said. Klasko was supposed to travel to Indonesia and spend a day there before returning to Tampa, but was told that it would take about a week to fly there, so he switched his flight to stop in Malaysia, which would cause a delay of just a few hours, he said.

“The Navy air base has one airstrip, one scanner — it’s very slow getting in and out of there,” Hoad said. He said the international airport in Bangkok was bigger than New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, and that filtering the hundreds of thousands who use that airport to much smaller ones, such as U-Tapao, causes a bottleneck, resulting in hours spent in line.

Hoad said he was unsure why Klasko had planned on spending a day in Indonesia.

At 3:40 p.m. Monday, Hoad said he received a text message from Klasko confirming that he arrived in Malaysia safely.

Genshaft and Law returned to Tampa on Saturday, and the flight took about 27 hours. Their flight was delayed by about four hours.

Beyond the delays, nobody on the trip has experienced any other problems so far, Hoad said. Though three University professors remain in Thailand — associate dean for international affairs at the USF College of Medicine Dr. John Sinnott, Dr. Lynette

Menezies and Dr. Charurut Somboonwit — Hoad said they were scheduled to be there until Thursday or Friday and does not anticipate any problems along the way, other than potential flight delays.

SWU paid for most of the travel expenses, though the remaining amount came from the USF Foundation. Hoad said these expenses are justified because they fall in line with the University’s strategic plan.