"As the court decided to dissolve the People Power Party, therefore the leader of the party and party executives must be banned from politics for five years," said Chat Chonlaworn, head of the nine-judge court panel, according to Telegraph.co.uk.

"The court had no other option," he said. Under the Thai constution, written by a military government last year, any political party in which a single executive member is convicted of election fraud must be entirely dissolved and all party executives banned from politics.

The verdict was widely anticipated and it may not lead immediately to the fall of the government or to the end of the crippling blockade of Bangkok’s airports.

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Government MPs are expected to reform in a new party. Meanwhile anti-government protesters, who have stranded thousands of travellers for over a week, are determined to maintain their blockade until they are satisfied of total victory.

Hours before the court verdict a rocket propelled grenade attack on Bangkok’s international airport killed one protester and wounded 22 others.

The situation in Thailand remains febrile, with widespread fears of much worse violence to come and speculation rife of extra- constitutional power grabs or “disguised coups”.

The attack on the yellow-shirted anti-government protesters of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) was launched from a motorway flyover near the airport. Grenade attacks on the group have become an almost daily occurrence but it remains unclear who is behind them.

The total death toll in Thailand’s political crisis on both sides of the conflict currently stands at seven with hundreds wounded.

Before the court’s verdict, supporters of the government warned that dissolving the ruling People Power party and two of its coalition allies would amount to a “judicial coup” or “a coup by the gowns instead of the tanks”.

Government supporters from the red-shirted Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship (DAAD) picketed the court from early in the morning, forcing the hearing to be transferred to a different building.

Most government MPs are now expected to move to a new “shell” party called Puea Thai (For Thais) which was prepared in anticipation of the verdict. They may then choose a new prime minister. Other coalition partners appear solid in their support.

The coalition controls around two thirds of the seats in parliament following elections less than a year ago.

Many believe the courts are prejudiced against the government. Earlier this year the same court dismissed a prime minister from office for hosting a television cookery show. But the courts have been lenient towards the opposition, including towards the PAD which illegally occupied Government House for three months and is now occupying both of Bangkok’s airports.

The government objects that the court fast-tracked this case and did not allow testimony from witnesses. The PAD is believed to have the support of some of the most powerful figures in Thai society.

Analysts see the crisis as a conflict between the electorally successful government under the patronage of the exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and the conservative traditional elite in the bureaucracy, army and palace who are determined to thwart him.

The situation in Thailand is now more uncertain than ever. A new prime minister can only be appointed if parliament meets – something which the PAD is expected to attempt to prevent through violent protests.

One scenario under discussion is that anti-government forces may now press for a caretaker administration drawn from the judiciary or elsewhere, excluding parliament.

There are mounting fears that the government’s red shirted supporters, who are much more numerous than the PAD and have so far watched the unfolding situation with growing anger but restraint, could mount a fierce backlash if they feel the government`s electoral mandate has been denied.

Meanwhile there is no end in sight for the misery of over 100 000 foreign tourists trapped in the country. A few planes continue to leave provincial airports but capacity is woefully inadequate.

Officials say it will take a week to reopen Bangkok airport even after the protesters leave.

Three tourists – two Canadians and a man from Hong Kong – have now died in road accidents while travelling from Bangkok to alternative airports. Three Canadians and a Briton were injured in a road accident overnight.