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Court orders Prime Minister's party disbanded for vote fraud

Latest update : 2008-12-02

Thailand's Constitutional Court issued its verdict Tuesday in a case that could see the protest-hit ruling party and two of its coalition partners dissolved. PM Somchai Wongsawat is banned from politics for five years.

AFP - A court in Thailand delivered a key verdict that could dissolve the ruling party Tuesday, stoking further tensions as a blast killed a protester at a besieged Bangkok airport.

Hundreds of angry government supporters surrounded the constitutional court in Bangkok, forcing judges to move to another building ahead of a decision that could force Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat himself to quit.

The unrest continued to take a heavy toll on the 350,000 travellers stranded in Thailand by the crisis, with three tourists including two Canadians dying in road accidents as they tried to flee the "Land of Smiles."

Judges are considering whether to disband three parties in the ruling coalition including the majority People Power Party (PPP) because some of their executives were convicted of vote fraud after elections in December 2007.

Representatives from the two smaller coalition parties gave their closing statements, but the PPP boycotted the proceedings saying the court had made up its mind to disband the party.

"It is considered that the PPP does not want to do a closing statement, so the court procedure is over. Please wait for the ruling today," said Chat Chonlaworn, head of the nine-judge Constitutional Court panel.

About 500 pro-government picketed the hearing even after fellow demonstrators had prompted judges to evacuate the downtown court building and move to premises on the outskirts of Bangkok.

They faced off against riot police, wearing red scarves saying "Love Thaksin," a reference to premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup.

Ruling party lawmaker Pichit Srivorakhan told AFP that the legal process had been unfair, adding: "We are rejecting any verdict."

Earlier a grenade attack killed a 29-year-old protester from the rival, anti-government People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) who was enforcing the movement's blockade of Bangkok's domestic Don Mueang airport.

He died from shrapnel wounds to the stomach, an emergency services spokeswoman told AFP. Twenty-two others were wounded.

It came just hours after the royalist PAD ended a three-month sit-in at the prime minister's offices in Bangkok following a series of similar attacks and  redeployed supporters to Don Mueang and the Suvarnabhumi international airport.

The PAD launched its campaign in late May, accusing the government of acting as a proxy for Thaksin -- Somchai's brother-in-law -- and of being hostile to the monarchy.

The PAD, who dress in yellow which they say symbolises their devotion to Thailand's much-revered king, are backed by the Bangkok business elite and middle classes, along with elements in the military and the palace.

Thaksin, whose supporters dress in red, is hugely popular with Thailand's rural and urban poor, especially in the north, his native area.

Somchai has been marooned in the northern pro-government stronghold of Chiang Mai since Wednesday, but he said he would attend a military ceremony later Tuesday ahead of the king's December 5 birthday.

Thais may also be waiting for King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world's longest reigning monarch, to point to a way out of the crisis in a birthday-eve speech on Thursday.

Airline passengers have been flooding to a naval base southeast of Bangkok and to the southern tourist town of Phuket to try to escape the country, along often dangerous roads.

Two Canadians were killed and a Briton seriously injured in a car crash on Monday as they headed to Phuket from Bangkok to catch a Cathay Pacific flight, police said.

A Hong Kong national was killed in a similar traffic accident on Sunday.

Meanwhile the cabinet is due to decide later Tuesday if it will postpone a summit of the Southeast Asian bloc ASEAN scheduled for mid-December, which would be a further blow to the country's image.

Date created : 2008-12-02