Thai PM refuses to step down amid protests

Thousands of protesters surrounded government offices, demanding Thai PM Samak Sundaravej step down. But a government spokesman said Sundaravej was determined to stay until the government was forced from power. (Story: C.Casali).



BANGKOK - Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej will not resign, a spokesman said on Saturday as thousands of protesters besieged his office, vowing to stay until they forced the government from power.


"It's impossible that Prime Minister Samak will resign," said Kuthep Saikrajang, spokesman for the People Power Party (PPP) which leads a six-party coalition elected six months ago.


"The standpoint of our party is that the government will not resign and there will be no house dissolution," Kuthep said, responding to a newspaper report that the country's army chief had urged Samak to dissolve parliament to end the protests.


Thousands of protesters, mainly middle-class Bangkok residents, had spent the night camped outside the ornate iron fence surrounding Government House after a largely peaceful march to the seat of government on Friday.


On Saturday, the atmosphere was jovial with the crowd clapping and cheering speakers on a hastily-erected stage as police casually looked on. Vendors were doing a brisk trade in umbrellas and fans as people sought relief from the hot morning sun.


"I don't know what will happen in the next one or two days, but our mission is still the same," Chamlong Srimuang, a retired general and co-leader of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), told a television station.


"We came here to tell them to get out," said the shaven-headed ascetic Buddhist who helped lead the PAD's street protests which ended with the ouster of prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a bloodless 2006 coup.


The PAD, a motley collection of businessmen, academics, royalists and unionised workers, launched its latest campaign four weeks ago against the Samak government which it views as an illegitimate Thaksin proxy.


Despite fears of violence, Friday's 25,000-strong march was largely peaceful and relieved investors pushed up Thai shares by nearly 4 percent. However, the main index is still down 13 percent since the protests began.


The campaign has raised political tensions in the coup-prone country and distracted the government from tackling soaring inflation and a stuttering economy.


The Bangkok Post newspaper, citing an unnamed source, said army chief Anupong Paochinda had urged Samak to dissolve parliament and call fresh elections only six months after the last nationwide polls.


"Clearing the decks would allow the people to 'make a new decision' at a fresh general election," the newspaper said.


Samak, a 73-year-old veteran politician who won millions of rural votes in the December election by promising to revive Thaksin's populist policies, has not commented on his meeting with Anupong and the police chief on Friday.


Kuthep said the newspaper report was the product of rumours spread by the PAD, which he said refused to accept the results of a democractic election.


"They can claim they seized Government House. But what's next? Will they appoint Chamlong to be prime minister?," he said.


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