Thai army chief asks PM to step down (Second lead)

November 26th, 2008 - 7:29 pm ICT by IANS  

Bangkok, Nov 26 (Xinhua) Thai Army chief Anupong Paochinda Wednesday urged Prime Minister Somchai Wonsawat to dissolve parliament in the wake of massive demonstrations by opposition People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) demanding the prime minister’s resignation, and ruled out military’s intervention to resolve the crisis. Anupong made the “suggestions” Wednesday afternoon at a press conference after holding an urgent meeting with military and police top brass, business leaders and academics.

The army chief said he did not envisage any role for the military in resolving the government-opposition confrontation.

He said the meeting agreed that the Somchai government should dissolve the House of Representatives to “return power to the people”, while the PAD protesters should end their demonstrations and vacate the Government House and Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport to end the face off.

If the government refuses to step down, it would do so at the risk of provoking a civil disobedience campaign, he said, adding that if PAD continues with the rallies they would face social sanction.

Paochinda skirted answer to question on military’s possible stand if both sides refuse to relent.

Thousands of travellers were stranded at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport Wednesday after their flights were cancelled by a siege on the facility by anti-government protesters.

Serirath Pasutanond, Airports of Thailand director in charge of Suvarnabhumi, estimated that 3,000 passengers had missed their flights after the airport was forced to stop departing flights Tuesday night.

Altogether, 73 flights, including 43 arriving aircraft and 30 departures, had been “impacted”, Sirirath said.

Thousands of followers of the PAD descended on Suvarnabhumi Tuesday evening in a bid to prevent the return of Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat from the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Peru.

The protestors took control of the airport’s entrances about 9 p.m. (14.00 GMT) Tuesday, forcing Airports of Thailand to announce the cancellation of departing flights for security purposes.

At least two bombs also went off in the parking lot of the airport early Wednesday, injuring four people, radio reports said.

The PAD - a loose alliance of disparate groups bound together by their hatred of Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire telecommunications tycoon who was prime minister from 2001 to 2006, has been using increasingly violent tactics to overthrow the government.

Thai police and the politically powerful military have refrained from cracking down on the movement, which has support from a broad swathe of Thai society, including members of Thailand’s political elite.

Political observers said they saw no easy resolution to the confrontation between the PAD and the government, meaning the standoff was likely to be protracted.

“The country is at war, a war of legitimacy,” said Panitan Wattanayagorn, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University. “Both sides have a kind of legitimacy but not enough to get rid of the other.”

Somchai leads an elected government, but the PAD claim he is a proxy for Thaksin, his brother-in-law.

Although living in self-imposed exile, Thaksin still controls the Thai government through his money, political cronies and relations.

Last month, Thailand’s Supreme Court sentenced Thaksin to two years in jail for abuse of power for allowing his wife to successfully bid on a plot of land at a 2003 government auction.

PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul called this week’s protest the “final battle”, vowing to bring the government down by Wednesday, after holding continuous street protests and demonstrations in Bangkok for six months.

The PAD Aug 26 successfully seized and occupied Government House, the seat of the executive branch of the government.

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