Thai PM refuses to quit or call election

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej rejected calls for his resignation on Thursday, saying he would not "jump ship" in the face of a three-month-old street campaign to unseat him.


Thai Premier Samak Sundaravej on Thursday refused to resign or call snap elections, and instead launched a verbal offensive against protesters who have besieged his offices for 10 days.

In an hour-long national radio address, Samak sought to shore up his public support, proclaiming himself as a defender of Thailand's democracy and its revered monarchy, against a movement that he described as "lawless."

"I am not resigning, I will not dissolve parliament. I have to stay in order to preserve democracy and to protect the monarchy," he said.

The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) is occupying the grounds of Samak's Government House offices to demand his resignation over claims that he is a puppet for ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

But the PAD -- a hodgepodge of royalists, businessmen, and activists -- also wants to roll back many of Thailand's democratic gains by creating a new parliament in which only 30 percent of seats would be elected.

"The PAD is like a radical doomsday cult," Samak said.

"The PAD is an illegal group who have seized the Government House and declared their victory. How can that be correct? The country cannot survive without law and order. Otherwise it's a state of anarchy," he added.

"If I resign, then what else? The PAD will impose a new political regime, with only 30 percent of parliament elected," Samak said. "Will the public be able to accept that?"

In addition to the street protests, Samak faces a barrage of court cases that have forced three ministers to resign and threaten to bring down his government.

Adding to the pressure, Foreign Minister Tej Bunnag, a former royal adviser who only took office six weeks ago, resigned late Wednesday, Samak said. Tej had replaced a minister forced out by the courts.

Thousands of protesters booed as they listened to his speech from their campsite on the Government House lawn, which has become a stinking mudpit without sanitation for the squatters.

"His speech only increased my confidence that what we are doing is not wrong. We will not go anywhere as long as he stays," media mogul and protest leader Sondhi Limthongkul said.

"This government is bullshit," he added.

The protests have underscored the gaping divide in Thai society between the wealthy urban elites represented by PAD and the poor but populous rural population that backed Thaksin and now Samak.

Thaksin was the first politician to rally Thailand's rural heartland into an electoral bloc, winning them over with cheap loans and universal health care.

The PAD led protests in 2006 against Thaksin, accusing him of widespread corruption and paving the way for the military coup against him.

Thaksin has fled to Britain to escape corruption charges in Thailand, but he tapped Samak to rally his supporters to a victory in elections last December, which ended more than a year of military rule.

Hoping to quell the protests, Samak declared a state of emergency in Bangkok three days ago, essentially giving control of the capital to the army.

But the powerful army chief, General Anupong Paojinda, has so far refused to evict the protesters from Government House, saying he would try to negotiate a solution first.

Anupong has so far ruled out a coup, after the last military government was widely derided as a bumbling administration that frightened foreign investors in a country whose economy depends on exports.

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