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March 20, 2009

Censure Motion:Thai PM brushes aside opposition claims

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva rejected allegations of corruption and draft-dodging on Thursday as the opposition launched a heated censure debate against the government, reported AFP.

The move, led by allies of fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, is almost certain to fail but opposition lawmakers hope that the allegations against Abhisit and five ministers will weaken the ruling coalition.

During the live televised debate Abhisit held up pictures of himself to prove his military status, hoping to deflect claims about skipping military service which have dogged him since he came to power three months ago.

"I have full legitimacy under the constitution to take this position," Abhisit, the head of the ruling Democrat Party, told parliament. A vote is due to take place on Saturday.

Chalerm Yoobamrung, leading the debate for the main opposition Puea Thai party, said that Abhisit and his party had "robbed" the previous government of power.

"I want to ask for justice," he said.

Oxford-educated Abhisit took office in December after a court ruling toppled the then-ruling party allied to Thaksin. The Democrats subsequently won over parties that were part of the previous coalition government.

The court ruling followed months of protests peaking in the occupation of Bangkok's two airports late last year by a royalist, anti-Thaksin movement known as the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD).

Chalerm accused the premier of protecting Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya over his support for the PAD's airport siege. Kasit reportedly said the blockade, which cost Thailand billions of dollars, was "a lot of fun".

He also alleged that Abhisit had certified false party financial statements, and that the Democrats had received millions of dollars in illegal donations and illegally distributed funds from the electoral commission.

As the debate intensified, Abhisit showed off a framed picture of himself in military uniform to hit back at claims from another MP that he had dodged military service.

He also held up a class picture from Thailand's Royal Military Academy, saying he had been made an officer when he taught economics there but gave up the rank after leaving because of his decision to enter politics.

The Oxford-educated Abhisit is expected to win the censure vote with the help of coalition allies, but the motion underlines his dependence on smaller parties - including former foes - to form a government.

The Democrats currently have 170 seats out of 465 in parliament, but can count on the support of around 70 coalition partners. The main opposition Puea Thai (For Thais) party has 182 seats.

Abhisit is named in the motion alongside Kasit, Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij, his deputy Pradit Patharaprasit, Interior Minister Chavarat Charnvirakul and his deputy Boonchong Wongtrairat.

The pro-Thaksin Puea Thai party was formed from the remnants of the former ruling People Power Party, which was disbanded by the constitutional court in December for alleged electoral fraud.

Its censure motion comes after months of further protests by the so-called "Red Shirts", supporters of Thaksin who are still angered by what they say is the undemocratic ousting of the last government.
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