Wed, Dec 03, 2008 - Page 1 News List

Court brings an end to besieged Thai Cabinet

DEMONSTRATIONS END PAD said anti-government protests would be halted today and its supporters would leave Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang airports

AGENCIES , BANGKOK

Thailand’s Constitutional Court banned the top three ruling parties for electoral fraud yesterday and banned the prime minister from politics for five years.

Government spokesman Nattawut Sai-kau said Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat and his six-party coalition would step down. Somchai, who has been working from Chiang Mai since last Wednesday, accepted the ruling with equanimity.

“It is not a problem. I was not working for myself. Now I will be a full-time citizen,” he told reporters in Chiang Mai.

First Deputy Prime Minister Chavarat Charnvirakul would take over as interim prime minister, a government spokesman said, and parliament now has 30 days to elect a new prime minister.

Anti-government protesters who had blockaded Bangkok’s two airports for the past week said hours after the Constitutional Court’s rulings that they would end all their rallies today.

People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) leader Sondhi Limthongkul said all demonstrations would cease at 10am. But he warned that demonstrators would return to the streets if other allies of exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra returned to power.

“The People’s Alliance for Democracy has agreed to cease protesting after a long-running 192-day campaign. We have won a victory and achieved our aims,” Sondhi said. “All protests will stop as of December 3 at 10am.”

The PAD had refused to negotiate until Somchai stepped down. They accuse him of being a puppet of Thaksin, his brother-in-law.

PAD members cheered and hugged after they heard news of the ruling. But hundreds of Somchai’s supporters gathered outside the court to express their anger, saying the swiftness of the ruling — which came just an hour after the closing arguments ended — reeked of predetermination.

Somchai’s People’s Power Party (PPP), the Machima Thipatai party and the Chart Thai party were found guilty of committing fraud in last December’s elections. The case stems from a Supreme Court conviction of a PPP executive committee member, Yongyuth Tiyapairat, who was found guilty of buying votes. Under Thai law, an entire party can be disbanded if one executive member is found guilty of electoral fraud.

Suvarnabhumi officials said some passenger flights would resume on Friday. The airport reopened to cargo flights yesterday.

In related news, the government postponed an ASEAN summit scheduled for the middle of this month until March.

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