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PM refuses to quit amidst rumours of his imminent exit

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October 18, 2008

Thailand Political Stalemate:
PM refuses to quit amidst rumours of his imminent exit

Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat said Friday he will stay in power despite growing calls for his resignation in the wake of a deadly confrontation between police and protesters last week, the Associated Press reported.

Somchai's decision came amid a deepening political crisis that has nearly paralysed the government and raised fears the army could seize power in its second coup in two years.

It also came a day after army chief Gen Anupong Paochinda - flanked by the commanders of the other armed forces - said in a TV interview that Somchai should take responsibility for the violence and hinted he should step down. Anupong repeated, however, his vow not to stage a coup.

In a separate report, Kyodo news quoted sources close to the premier as saying Friday that the embattled prime minister has made up his mind to step down in next few days, apparently due to deteriorating support for his government from the military and the public.

The development comes after Thai military leaders Thursday jointly appeared on a private television program and pressured Somchai to step down to take responsibility for recent bloody clashes between police and anti-government protesters.

Somchai, who has been in power for only a month, told close aides in his People Power Party and in the armed forces Friday that he is seeking a successor and needs one or two more days before officially resigning, the sources said.

He cited the need to have a new administration to push for amendments to the post-coup Constitution to facilitate the holding of a new general election, according to one of the sources.

Amidst the speculation, anti-government demonstrators blocked the streets of a busy business district in the capital and handed out compact discs and photos documenting the October 7 clash.

Some held up posters with photos of Somchai and the police chief with the word "murderer" written beneath them. Several protesters carried clubs and metal pipes during the march Friday, as a handful of traffic police were seen nearby.

The People's Alliance for Democracy, the group leading the protests, has branded Somchai a puppet of Thaksin. The group's protests against Thaksin led to the 2006 military coup that ousted the former leader for alleged corruption and misuse of power.

Speaking from a make-shift stage on the back of a truck, one of the PAD leaders, Somsak Kosaisuk, said they were planning on handing out 100,000 books and CDs with photos and accounts of the violence.

The full-colour booklets showed graphic images of protesters whose feet were blown off in the clashes - injuries blamed by a forensic expert on dangerous Chinese-made tear gas canisters.

Since May 25, anti-government protesters who called themselves the People's Alliance for Democracy have staged marathon rallies against two successive coalition governments led by the People Power Party, accusing their leaders of being political proxies of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who fled to Britain in August just as he was to appear in court to face corruption charges.

Defiant protests by PAD resulted in bloody clashes on September 2 and October 7 in which a total of three people were killed and some 500 injured.

The top contender to succeed Somchai would be current Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sompong Amornvivat. Another contender would be Apiwan Wiriyachai, currently deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, Kyodo news quoted a source close to Somchai as saying.

But several politicians said they prefer Somchai to dissolve the lower house and call for a snap poll within 60 days rather than stepping down. Somchai was set to meet with representatives of the other five parties in the coalition government Friday afternoon.

Somchai, who is Thaksin's brother-in-law, assumed office on September 18 after his embattled predecessor Samak Sundaravej was forced to leave office by the Constitutional Court for breaching conflict of interest rules.

Thaksin was ousted by a bloodless coup in September 2006 despite his strong popularity among the rural poor and urban middle class who admired his visionary leadership that brought grass-root changes to Thailand.

He faces various corruption cases in Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions.

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