Thai PM accepts resignation of FM as protesters refuse to budge

September 4, 2008 at 2:53 am Leave a comment

September 04, 2008

Thai Foreign Minister Tej Bunnag who has resigned from Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej's beleaguered government.

Thai Foreign Minister Tej Bunnag who has resigned from Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej

BANGKOK (AFP) — Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej said Thursday that he had accepted the resignation of his foreign minister, but refused to step down himself despite more than a week of street protests.

An aide to Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, who would not be named, told AFP that Foreign Minister Tej Bunnag submitted his resignation citing his wife’s ill health, but it has yet to be accepted by the prime minister.

Samak is fighting to rally support in the face of thousands of protesters who have besieged his empty government offices for the past week, calling on him to resign.

Early Tuesday the so-called People’s Alliance for Democracy clashed with government supporters in Bangkok, leaving one man dead and 44 people injured, prompting Samak to impose emergency rule across the capital.

Thailand’s political stalemate showed no sign of easing up on Wednesday, even as a national strike threatened by utility workers flopped.

Unions representing 200,000 employees at state enterprises had threatened to make crippling cuts to water and power supplies nationwide. But few workers heeded their call, with services running as usual.

Some workers who began disrupting train services last week returned to the job Wednesday, the State Railway of Thailand said, adding that operations had actually improved, with trains suspended only in southern provinces.

Flag carrier Thai Airways reported no disruptions and transport authorities in Bangkok said public buses were running as usual.

But the thousands of activists who stormed Samak’s official compound 10 days ago refused to budge, raising fears of new violence despite the capital now being essentially under military control.

Political gatherings are banned and the army is empowered to suspend civil liberties.

But while the protesters have defied the ban on assembly, the army chief, General Anupong Paojinda, said he would use talks rather than violence to end the siege.

The military has made no move to evict activists squatting in the Government House compound, and one of the key protest leaders said they would only open negotiations if Samak resigns.

“Our stand is always firm — that Mr. Samak has to go. If Mr. Samak doesn’t go we will not talk to anybody,” said media mogul Sondhi Limthongkul, who has spearheaded the movement.

No soldiers were seen around the protest site Wednesday, where 5,000 ac tivists had again slept on the Government House lawn — now little more than a smelly mass of mud after days of occupation with little sanitation.

One senior aide to Samak told reporters that the premier was surprised that Anupong had not taken any action against the protesters.

“Anupong should not be a mediator,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “What are the military playing at?”

Samak’s state of emergency has sharply split Thais, according to a survey of Thailand’s 16 biggest provinces by Assumption University, which found 50.8 percent of people questioned supported the decision.

The turmoil has also battered Thailand’s stock market, which has fallen 24 percent since protests first broke out in May.

The PAD’s protesters accuse Samak of acting as a puppet for Thaksin, who has fled to Britain to escape corruption charges. Samak also faces a barrage of legal cases that could bring down his government.

The PAD wants to weaken the voting power of the rural poor, who form the base of support for both Samak and Thaksin, by appointing rather than electing 70 percent of parliamentarians.

Such a change would undo most of Thailand’s democratic development over the last three decades. The kingdom has only ever had a shaky hold on democracy, with 18 military coups since absolute monarchy ended in 1932.

“All these calls for Samak to resign now constitute a litmus test for Thailand’s democratic system,” said political analyst Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Chulalongkorn University.

“If the PAD remains intransigent and gets its way, that would mean Samak is ousted and PAD is unlikely to stop there. Ultimately they’re going far to the right, taking Thailand back to the dark ages.”

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Entry filed under: Politics, Preah Vihear Issue. Tags: , .

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