Thai military discusses crisis; no coup

The top brass of Thailand's military said that the military role is to look after the country, to stand by the people's side, to protect the monarchy, calling on both sides to be restrained and avoid violence.

Thai military discusses crisis; no coup
The top brass of Thailand's military has ruled out a takeover to resolve the political crisis engulfing the nation -- for now, the military chief told Reuters on Saturday.

Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej is facing a three-month-old campaign to drive him from power. Thousands of anti-government activists have barricaded themselves in his official compound for the past 12 days and refuse to move until he quits.

"Nobody is thinking about launching a coup now. That's not an option," Supreme Commander Boonsrang Niumpradit said in a telephone interview. "That door is closed."

He added: "But if it drags on like this and people keep telling the army to launch a coup, I don't know what will happen."

Boonsrang, who is due to retire at the end of the month, said he met chiefs of the army, navy and air force on Friday and discussed the crisis that has paralysed Samak's government.

He said the chiefs debated various options, but he declined to elaborate.

Samak, who is also defence minister, has offered to hold a referendum on his seven-month rule, but the activists of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) have rejected the offer.

"Nobody can think of a good solution to the current situation," Boonsrang said. "Soldiers have fewer options than people may think. We are controlled by discipline."

Thailand's 300,000-strong military has been intensely involved in politics since it helped overthrow the absolute monarchy in 1932. It has since been involved in 23 other coups or coup attempts.

The last military intervention was the ouster of prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, removed in 2006. In that putsch, the generals had insisted just days before tanks rolled into Bangkok that they would not launch another coup.

Puppet

Samak, 73, who was elected to head a coalition government in January, is widely viewed as a puppet of Thaksin, who now lives in exile in London.

The PAD, a motley collection of retired army officers, royalists and academics, also paints itself as a guardian of the king against a supposed Thaksin bid to turn Thailand into a republic, a charge denied by Thaksin and the government.

"The military role is to look after the country, to stand by the people's side, to protect the monarchy," Boonsrang said, calling on both sides to be restrained and avoid violence.

"We cannot let anyone ruin the country."

Thaksin is still admired by rural Thais who handed him huge parliamentary majorities in return for his populist programmes, but despised by Bangkok's middle class, the military and the royalist establishment, who all opposed his modernising agenda.

He was also accused of abuse of power and corruption while in office.

The Bangkok Post newspaper said Senate Speaker Prasopsuk Boondej, who is politically neutral, was trying to mediate between Samak and the PAD, but there were no signs that his efforts were bearing fruit.

Thai stocks have fallen more than 26 percent since the PAD launched its campaign at the end of May, while the baht has plunged to a 19-month low against the dollar, although both markets have also been hurt by high inflation and the global economic slowdown.

The political crisis has also hit tourism, with airlines and hotels reporting cancellations.

But the fate of Samak's government is only a battle in what is becoming a class war, analysts have said.

The fundamental clash between followers of Thaksin and his huge following in the countryside against the traditional Bangkok-based royalist elite could take years, or even decades, to resolve, they say.

Reuters
Güncelleme Tarihi: 06 Eylül 2008, 14:27
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