Saturday, 18 October 2008

Thai leader shrugs off call to quit

International Herald Tribune
The Associated Press
Published: October 17, 2008

BANGKOK: Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat of Thailand said Friday that he will stay in power, despite growing calls for his resignation after a deadly confrontation between police and protesters last week.

Somchai made the announcement amid a deepening political crisis that has nearly paralyzed the government and raised fears the army could seize power in its second coup in two years.

"The government cannot just abandon its work and responsibility. We have many major projects coming up," he said in a news conference that was televised nationally.

Somchai took office last month, and he immediately became a target of anti-government protesters because of his relationship to his brother-in-law, the deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

A demonstration against his government turned into a violent confrontation between police and protesters last week that left one demonstrator dead and hundreds of others injured.

Some demonstrators at that protest carried guns, iron rods, slingshots and rocks, and rioters set fire to parked cars, trucks and vans. The police have been accused of firing exploding canisters of tear gas that badly wounded many of the protesters.

Somchai established a special panel to look into the incident and said he expected a report in the next 15 days.

"What happened is not what we intended," he said Friday. "Whatever the result" of the investigation, "the government will accept it. If someone has to take responsibility, we will accept it."

On Thursday, the army chief, General Anupong Paochinda, flanked by the commanders of the other armed forces, said that Somchai should take responsibility for the violence, and he hinted that Somchai should step down.

Thousands of anti-government protesters marched early Friday through the streets of Bangkok, and they made a more explicit call for Somchai to quit.

The demonstrators blocked the streets of a busy business district in the capital, and they handed out compact discs and photos documenting the Oct. 7 clash.

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.Border issues unresolved
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen called Friday for more talks with Thailand after a deadly armed clash raised fears the two countries were headed for a full-scale war over a patch of disputed land along their border.

On Wednesday, a gun and rocket battle near the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple left two Cambodian soldiers dead and wounded three others. Seven Thai troops were injured.

A Thai army spokesman on Thursday said military officials from the two sides agreed to hold joint patrols.

But on Friday, General Ke Kim Yan, commander in chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, denied any deal for joint patrols had been reached. He said the two countries had agreed only to maintain their current troop deployments in the disputed area and inform each other about any troop movements in order to prevent further misunderstandings.

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