Thailand's prime minister vows to stay in
office, despite thousands of protesters around the country demanding his
resignation. As Ron Corben reports, the Cabinet plans to hold a national
referendum on the political crisis.
Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, in a nationally
broadcast address Thursday morning, dismissed reports he was preparing to stand
to end weeks of anti-government protests.
In a defiant speech, Mr. Samak
said the whole world was watching the unfolding events and he would not "abandon
He says he will not resign and he will not dissolve parliament as
he must stay to protect democracy.
Mr. Samak was elected last December,
in the first elections held after a coup in 2006 ousted Prime Minister Thaksin
Just hours earlier, a leading English language daily
newspaper declared in a banner headline "Samak on the brink of exit" because of
the foreign minister's resignation on Wednesday.
Sompop Manarangsan, an
economist at Chulalongkorn University, says Mr. Samak's decision will worsen the
"The tensions in the society are going to be much
more critical from now on because a lot more people - even the businessmen,
academics, lecturers around the country - even senior high school students are
coming out for the government to resign or to dissolve the parliament," said
Sompop warned of the protests spreading and as they do, becoming
more difficult to control.
The People's Alliance for Democracy has led
the protests for nearly four months. The PAD says Mr. Samak acts as a nominee
for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who recently fled to Britain to
avoid trial on corruption charges. Mr. Thaksin says he is innocent.
week, PAD supporters escalated the protests by occupying the compound of the
main government office building. They remain there, despite court orders to
leave and the imposition of a state of emergency, which bans large gatherings.
In a move seen as trying to de-fuse the situation, the Cabinet Thursday
announced it would hold a national referendum asking voters to decide whether
the government should resign or dissolve parliament. Mr. Samak says he hopes the
Senate will approve the referendum quickly, so the vote could be held early next
Kraisak Choonhavan, a member of parliament from the opposition
Democrat Party, says the protests are spreading and now are in 15 cities, while
45 labor unions pledge to support the PAD. The crisis, he says, undermines the
administration of the country.
"The government is completely
paralyzed and yet the stubbornness and unrighteousness and the arrogance of the
prime minister remains unabated. And the only solution is the resignation of the
prime minister," he said.
Despite the protests, the country is calm and
operating normally. The army chief says that troops called in to enforce the
state of emergency want to keep it that way. He rules out using force against
The crisis is the most severe since 2006, when after
months of massive protests, the military ousted Prime Minister Thaksin, and
imposed a military-led government.