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Sunday, June 1, 2008

Thailand May Use Force to End Protest, Samak Says

Thailand May Use Force to End Protest, Samak Says

By Rattaphol Onsanit

May 31 (Bloomberg) -- Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej said he may use force to end an anti-government protest near his office that has lasted almost a week.

About 1,500 protesters are gathered close to Samak's office and the residence of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, according to Surapol Thuanthong, a deputy police spokesman in Bangkok. The demonstration, which swelled to as many as 10,000 yesterday, helped spur the biggest decline in the nation's stock market this week in almost 10 months on concern it will deter overseas investors and damp economic growth.

``I must take you away from that area,'' Samak said in a live television broadcast on state-controlled NBT today. ``I have police and military forces ready.''

The demonstrators are being led by the People's Alliance for Democracy, an activist group that spearheaded protests contributing to the overthrow of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006. PAD leaders last night said they would maintain the demonstration until Samak steps down.

The military ousted Thaksin in a bloodless coup two years ago, claiming it acted to prevent a violent clash between the anti-government protesters and Thaksin's supporters. The benchmark SET Index fell 4.8 percent this week, the sharpest decline since August.

Another Coup

The army cannot rule out another coup, which would be the 19th since the nation's absolute monarchy ended in 1932, Supreme Military Commander Boonsrang Niumpradi said May 29.

The PAD claims Samak is a proxy for Thaksin, who pledged to stay out of politics following his overthrow. Samak's People's Power Party, which won a national election in December, includes politicians from Thaksin's now-dissolved Thai Rak Thai Party.

``My government is not a puppet government,'' Samak said. ``We are a government serving the King.''

The 80-year-old monarch is revered as a symbol of stability in the nation of 66 million people, many of whom have his portrait in their homes.

The protest gained momentum this week after police said it will charge Cabinet member Jakrapob Penkair, who headed Samak's office, for insulting the King in a speech he made last year before joining the government. Jakrapob announced his resignation yesterday.

``We will continue to protest until the government gets out,'' Parnthep Pourpongpan, a protest organizer, said last night. ``The people agreed to purge the government.''

The PAD began the demonstration to oppose constitutional changes that might prevent the ruling party from being disbanded. Organizers have since listed other reasons for their gathering, including threats to the monarchy and high fuel prices.

``The only way the People's Alliance can destabilize the government is to create conditions under which extra- constitutional intervention can take place,'' said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute for Strategic and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. ``It appears they are going in that direction.''

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