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18 June 2009

Thai lawmakers give greenlight to $22bn stimulus loan

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Thai MPs have approved two government bills to borrow 22 billion dollars for an economic stimulus package, despite a walkout by angry opposition legislators, AFP quoted Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva as saying.

The opposition, many of whom are loyal to ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, refused to take part in the vote for the second of the bills after one of their members was ejected for using "improper" language.

The government has said that the 800-billion-baht loan, mainly from local money markets, will fund stimulus measures worth 1.4 trillion baht over the next three years as Thailand grapples with recession.

The lower house Tuesday overwhelmingly passed the first 400-billion-baht tranche of the money, while the second tranche was adopted early Wednesday after the opposition boycotted the session.

"They wanted to show their opposition... but I hope that the opposition will not do that today in the budget debate," Abhisit told reporters.

The Oxford-educated prime minister's shaky ruling coalition, led by his Democrat Party, began presenting its budget to parliament later Wednesday. The opposition has said the bills for the stimulus package lack details, but Abhisit countered that they must explain to the public why they had boycotted the vote.

"We are very open for debate and it was the opposition who decided to walk out. We will explain every issue in the next two days' budget meetings which will be telecast live," he said.

The speaker of the lower house of parliament, Chai Chidchob, said he had asked an opposition member from the pro-Thaksin Puea Thai party to retract an "improper word" but he refused to do so during the overnight session.

"Since the member refused to retract those impolite words, I had to ask security to invite him out after he refused to comply," triggering the walkout, he told reporters.

The split over how to pull Thailand out of its worst economic crisis in more than a decade underscored the still simmering tensions in the kingdom since Thaksin was toppled in a military coup in 2006.

The country entered recession in the first quarter of this year as growth shrank by a bigger-than-expected 7.1 percent due to tumbling exports. The government has also revised down its growth forecast for 2009 to between minus 2.5 and minus 3.5 percent.

Abhisit on Wednesday presented a budget of 1.7 trillion baht for the 2010 fiscal year, with a 350-million-baht deficit. He said his cabinet would still be able to focus on key policies, despite making a 200-billion-baht cut from initial spending plans because of lower tax receipts.

"The government plans to restore confidence, stimulate the economic situation and create financial stability," Abhisit told parliament. Thailand announced an initial 117-billion-baht stimulus package in January. Abhisit said on Sunday that the second package would create up to two million jobs.


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