Friday, August 29, 2008

Thailand's Army turns on Prime Minister Samak

By Wassana Nanuam

URGENT Army commander Anupong Paojinda has rejected Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej's call for a state of emergency and suggested instead the premier either resign or dissolve the House of Representatives to ease tensions, a source said. Key political partner Banharn Silpa-archa turned up the heat by demanding an urgent meeting with Premier Samak and other coalition leaders.

Gen Anupong made the recommendation in a 15-minute private meeting with Mr Samak which took place shortly after the Defence Council meeting between top military brass and Mr Samak, who is also defence minister.

Before a Defence Council meeting Gen Anupong ruled out a coup, saying he did not see how it would resolve the problem - although generals always have denied they planned a coup through all 17 previous military seizures of power.

Just minutes after he drove out of the Defence Ministry after the meeting, Gen Anupong was summoned back for the meeting with Mr Samak, to discuss escalating tensions at Government House where the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) was camping out for a fourth day.

According to the source, Mr Samak asked whether the army was ready to handle the situation if he declared a state of emergency on Friday night.

The source said Gen Anupong disagreed with invocation of the emergency law out of fear of violence.

"He refuses to mobilise troops even if the prime minister goes ahead and declares a state of emergency. He wants the prime minister to first deploy police to handle the situation," said the source.

The army chief also asked Mr Samak to consider resigning or dissolving the House of Representatives as possible options, the source said.

He also said the current situation did not warrant a state of emergency or invocation of the internal security law.

The army chief said the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) would not step in to take control of the situation as there were several steps to go through.

Chart Thai party leader Banharn held a Friday night press conference, demanding "an urgent meeting with coalition leaders".

He denied he was trying to pressure the prime minister, and insisted he will not withdraw from the six-party governing coalition for now. But he wants to discuss the government’s actions against supporters of the PAD at the police headquarters.

Clouds of what appeared to be CS anti-riot gas billowed over the crowd and those who inhaled it had the exact reaction of being doused with the chemical, commonly called "tear gas".

But the government including Interior Minister Kowit Wattana insisted no such agent was used by police. Mr Kowit, who is not the minister responsible for police, said that "a third hand" may have fired tear gas, but denied police had used it.

Mr Samak, who is the minister responsible for police, said authorities would not use violence against the PAD protesters.

Gen Anupong called on PAD leaders and the government to resolve the conflict through talks while expressing confidence that the police could handle the situation.

He said he had suggested national police chief Pol Gen Patcharawat Wongsuwan not use force and urged PAD demonstrators to respect court orders.

Meanwhile, First Army commander Prayuth Chan-ocha has put two battalions on security alert and instructed all units in Bangkok to go on stand-by.

A source in the army said that troops were likely to step in if there were attacks on government agencies.

The source also said if the military were to stage a coup and bring down the Samak government, it would also "take down" PAD in the process.

"The last coup is proof that the military cannot take sides with any party. A coup is to restore order," said the source.

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