Thursday, October 23, 2008

With fears of another coup rife, PM heads to Beijing

Despite widespread rumours of another military coup, Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat has left the country on a trip to Beijing, apparently confident that that it is only idle speculation.

But coup fears are rife and it is just a matter of time before the tanks are again on the streets of Bangkok, Chulalongkorn University political analyst Panitan Wattanayagorn said yesterday.

The rumours have been intensifying since army chief Gen Anupong Paojinda went on national television last week to urge Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat to resign over the violent suppression of People's Alliance for Democracy protesters by police on Oct 7. He was accompanied by the chiefs of the navy, air force and police force.

Mr Somchai refuses to resign.

"Right now, the people fear there may be another coup," Mr Panitan said.

"Relations between the military leaders and Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat have soured. I think that under such circumstances everything seems to point to a coup.

"It is only a matter of time."

If the military took over it would lead to the formation of a national government of unity which would bring all parties together, he said. But it must be done quickly to avoid possible political chaos.

Mr Somchai flew to Beijing yesterday to attend the two-day summit of the Asia-Europe Meeting that begins today.

It is Mr Somchai's first foreign trip since he was sworn in to office.

The situation is similar to the lead-up to the Sept 19, 2006 coup when former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was in New York to address the United Nations general assembly.

The army took advantage of his absence to topple his government.

An army source said the army is keeping an eye on Mr Thaksin's plan for a phone-in interview during a talk show on NBT on Nov 1. He might criticise some important people, the source said.

Gen Anupong on Tuesday signed an order changing the assignments of 141 colonels in three powerful regiments based in Bangkok. Although it was a seasonal reshuffle, the officers control the forces that are the key to a coup.

"The military does not want to stage a coup. In this situation, there is no knowing how to solve the problem. Everyone is now speaking of a coup as a solution," said the commander of an infantry regiment in Bangkok, who asked not to be named.

Former deputy police chief Salang Bunnag's plan to reclaim Government House from the People's Alliance for Democracy is also seen as a factor contributing to a possible coup.

He has announced plans to mobilise government supporters to seal off the Government House grounds where PAD supporters are and cut off their food and water supplies for three days.

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