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Thai prime minister snubs army call to step down He says no to snap poll; Cabinet to discuss ‘measures’ against protesters

November 27th, 2008 · No Comments


THAILAND’s Cabinet will hold an emergency meeting today to discuss ‘measures’ against protesters in Bangkok who have broken the law, Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat said in a national television address last night.

Mr Somchai also refused to heed an army call for him to step down and call a snap election, saying his government was democratically elected and would continue to work for the good of the country, Reuters reported yesterday.

Earlier, Thailand’s military chief General Anupong Paochinda called on the government to dissolve Parliament, as the first step to end months of political turmoil which culminated in thousands of anti-government protesters occupying Bangkok International Airport on Tuesday.

Gen Anupong said the anti-government People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) should end its occupation after the government made the first move. PAD rejected the idea and vowed to continue its occupation until PM Somchai resigns. House dissolution was not enough, it said.

Three months of protracted protests and violent clashes – which have killed at least five people and injured hundreds – have shattered investor sentiment, a Singapore-based businessman stranded in Bangkok told The Business Times.

‘Singaporean business people are scared of doing business in Thailand. They will simply invest in Vietnam where everything is controlled,’ said Eric Rosenkrantz, chairman, mStream Media, who was also stranded in Phuket three months ago when PAD protesters forced the airport there to close temporarily.

‘I’ve been coming to Thailand for 20 years. I own property here, but now I fear for Thailand’s future,’ he said. ‘These protests are destroying its economy and its tourism.’

Yesterday, Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo said in Santiago, Chile: ‘The situation appears to be rather confused. We are very troubled by it. We hope that all groups in Thailand will have the political will to compromise and find a way out for the country. And, indeed, it is something the Thai people need for themselves.’

Mr Yeo added: ‘The tourism industry is badly affected and I’m worried that the Asean summit will also be affected. There has been no contingency plan on the summit because we assumed that it would be held. But now with the present situation unfolding, there is a cloud of uncertainty.’

A Cambodian Foreign Ministry spokesman said the prime ministers of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, meeting in Vientiane, had formally asked Asean whether the meeting should be postponed, according to a Reuters report. The Asean regional summit is scheduled for Dec 14-17.

Last night, PM Somchai declined to comment on the demands, while government sources said General Anupong was in danger of being sacked.

Analysts said dissolving Parliament would not help to defuse the crisis.

‘It is unlikely to resolve the entrenched political divide,’ said Ismael Wolff, political and security analyst at Bangkok-based PSA Asia. ‘There’s no reason to expect PAD to recognise any election that fails to deliver a government that doesn’t reflect their minority view.’

However, he said the airport occupation needs to be viewed in a wider context where the government has been unwilling, or unable, to enforce the rule of law for the past three months over fears of a public backlash.

‘But it does show that security is extremely lax if crudely armed individuals can so easily overrun such a sensitive and important location,’ said Mr Wolff.

Four bomb blasts targeting both pro- and anti-government protesters injured at least 12 people in the early hours yesterday morning.

And Airports of Thailand yesterday evacuated 3,000 tourists trapped at the airport, and applied for a court order to evict the PAD. It said it did not know when flights would resume.

Political observer Thitinan Pongsudirak said tension will continue to rise but is unlikely to lead to widespread mass violence.

The Stock Exchange of Thailand closed at 395.22 points, up 0.9 per cent, on hopes that a political resolution was in sight.

PAD has led a three- month occupation of Government House demanding the ouster of the People’s Power Party (PPP), which it says is a proxy for ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a 2006 military coup and lives in self-imposed exile after being sentenced to jail on corruption charges last month.

The Thai military has so far refused to use force to evict PAD from Government House or end the airport occupation. It has also resisted calls from PAD to stage a coup.

A Thai court ordered anti-government protesters yesterday to end their siege. The Bangkok Civil Court granted an injunction sought by the operator of Suvarnabhumi airport, saying that the protests had infringed on people’s rights, Reuters reported.

Published November 27, 2008
© The Business Times

Tags: news · The Business Times (Singapore)

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