Thai prime minister refuses to resign - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

Thai prime minister refuses to resign

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Posted: Wednesday, September 3, 2008 9:17 pm | Updated: 9:07 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

BANGKOK, Thailand - Embattled Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej called the political crisis in Thailand a shameful embarrassment for the country but vowed not to resign or dissolve Parliament, saying Thursday it was his job to protect democracy.

Samak vowed in a live radio broadcast that he would not bow to demands of anti-government protesters, a stance likely to inflame a national crisis that started Aug. 26 when thousands of activists occupied the grounds of his office compound.

"I am not resigning. I have to protect the democracy of this country," said Samak, who has not been able to enter his office since the protesters set up camp on the grounds of Government House.

"I am outside, and I can't work properly," he said, noting several times that the world was watching Thailand. "Is it shameful? Yes."

But he added, to "resign won't mean anything, even if I dissolve the Parliament."

News of the planned radio broadcast leaked Wednesday night, fueling speculation that Samak's resignation was imminent. The front-page of the English-language Nation newspaper ran with the banner headline Thursday: "Samak on the Brink of Exit."

The announcement came after Samak imposed a state of emergency in Bangkok on Tuesday after bloody rioting between his supporters and opponents left one person dead and dozens injured.

The anti-government protesters have publicly humiliated Samak by defying the emergency decree and remaining at his office compound, after the army chief declined to use force to remove them.

Protesters jeered, booed and repeatedly shouted, "Samak Get Out!" as his radio address was broadcast over speakers at Government House. One of the leaders, Chamlong Srimuang, addressed the crowd afterward, predicting that more people would join their ranks.

"After this, we will have more people coming to join us here," Chamlong said. "Brothers, I call on you to stay here. Stay with us until he is gone. We can't leave the Government House empty-handed. We want nothing less than victory!"

Foreign Minister Tej Bunnag resigned Wednesday, a move widely viewed as a sign that Samak was losing support from his own government.

Samak said Tej, a respected diplomat who was appointed to his post July 27 to help ease political tensions, sent him a letter saying he had been "pressured by many sides," including his wife who said she "could not tolerate him working for a government that had been treated contemptuously."

The protests have been organized by the People's Alliance for Democracy, which has already forced one prime minister from power — staging protests in 2006 that paved the way for the bloodless coup that removed Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin, a telecommunications tycoon, recently fled to Britain to escape corruption charges. The protesters say Samak is Thaksin's stooge and is running the government for him by proxy.

The alliance — a mix of royalists, wealthy and middle-class urban residents, and union activists — argues that Western-style democracy doesn't work for Thailand. It says the ballot box gives too much weight to the impoverished rural majority, who protesters say are susceptible to vote buying that breeds corruption. It wants Parliament to be revamped so most lawmakers appointed rather than elected.

Army chief Gen. Anupong Paochinda has insisted the military will not stage a new coup.

Anupong also has made it clear that if troops are ordered into Bangkok's streets, they will be armed only with riot shields and batons, and will not use force — roughly the same position taken by Samak since the crisis began.

Even if peace can be maintained, the government's failure to resolve the deadlock — and take back its own offices — makes the business community skittish.

Since the beginning of the year, the Stock Exchange of Thailand index has fallen 24 percent. The index is at it lowest level in more than six months. The Credit Suisse Group advised investors in a report to avoid stocks in Thailand as political turmoil intensifies.

Even if Thailand can avoid serious street violence, "the country is at risk of becoming ungovernable," said the financial group.

But Kongkiat Opatwongkan, head of Asia Plus Securities, saw some hope in the latest developments.

"The state of emergency actually allayed some fear of another clash between the two sides," he said. "Investors are waiting to see what form of negotiation or compromise both sides might engage in but if this drags on, it would have a very negative impact on investment and the economy."

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