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February 9, 2009

Thai PM: No shortfall in reserves
Thailand's prime minister on Sunday defended his economic stimulus package and insisted that plans to borrow money from abroad did not signal a shortfall in the kingdom's reserves.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's government has unveiled a 116.7-billion-baht (3.3 billion dollar) package aimed at boosting the economy, hit by last year's airport blockades and the world financial crisis, AFP reported.

The plan is a mixture of cash handouts for low earners, tax cuts, expanded free education and subsidies for transport and utilities, and was approved in an initial parliament reading on January 29.

But critics have called it a short-term fix to a long-term problem, and have questioned the value of handing out one-off payments of 2,000 baht to poor families and cutting taxes as global financial woes bite.

"People are concerned about the economic situation of the country, while the government has approved a stimulus package and several tax measures," Abhisit said during his weekly television address to the nation.

"It will not cause a budget deficit or public debts." The government also said last week that it had approved in principle for the country to borrow up to two billion dollars from international financial institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

"Some people are concerned about borrowing money, but we still have foreign reserves which are at a stable level. If we borrow the money, it will be for development projects, not to strengthen our reserves," Abhisit said.

"We are just prepared in case in the second quarter or the second half of the year, the world economic situation does not improve." Abhisit secured a 63-billion-yen (684-million-dollar) loan from Japan during a trip there ending Saturday, which he said will be used to build a new line on Bangkok's underground rail system.

The Bank of Thailand has said Bangkok's airport closures in late November and early December by a protest group cost the Thai economy 290 billion baht, and has forecast economic growth at zero to two percent this year.

Oxford-educated Abhisit came to power in a parliamentary vote in December after a court dissolved the former ruling party, ending six months of increasingly-disruptive street protests.

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