Wed, Dec 31, 2008 - Page 1 News List

Thai PM forced to deliver speech at foreign ministry

AGENCIES , BANGKOK

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva warned yesterday the country’s economy could slide into recession as he finally delivered a maiden policy speech delayed by protesters who blockaded parliament for two days.

Underlining the problems facing his shaky coalition government, Thailand’s fourth prime minister this year was forced to make his speech at the Foreign Ministry.

Speaking live on television, Abhisit said the country’s deep political divisions could push it “into recession if action is not taken quickly to resolve them and revive confidence among investors and foreign tourists.”

“These conflicts are the country’s weakness, especially at a time when the world economy is entering its worst crisis in a century,” he told the parliamentarians gathered in a hall normally used for diplomatic receptions.

As he spoke, hundreds of flag-waving, red-shirted supporters of former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and lives in exile, blocked the ministry’s gates to demand that Abhisit call fresh elections.

“This meeting was illegal,” shouted a leader of the pro-Thaksin Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship (DAAD), echoing the view of about 100 opposition parliamentarians who boycotted the special sitting.

“We are here for democracy,’’ said Narumol Thanakarnpanich, a 53-year-old university professor from Bangkok. “We want a new government.”

After a brief shoving match with police, the marchers later abandoned their siege and returned to parliament. Abhisit and some 300 legislators then left in a convoy under police escort.

Government ministers argued that, constitutionally, the speech did not have to be given in parliament and Buranaj Smutharaks, a spokesman for Abhisit’s Democrat Party, said there were enough lawmakers present at the ministry for a quorum.

Buranaj said Abhisit’s main concern was to avoid a repeat of the bloody clashes around parliament in October between police and the yellow-shirted People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), protesting against the pro-Thaksin government then in power.

Two people died and hundreds were injured in those clashes, the worst in Thailand’s three-year-old political crisis.

The impasse between Bangkok’s royalist and business elite, who accused Thaksin of corruption and abuse of power, and rural voters who gave the billionaire huge election victories on the back of his populist policies, shows no sign of abating.

Abhisit has made the economy and unity his priorities since he won a parliamentary vote two weeks ago.

However, the 44-year-old could not start work until his policy speech was delivered to parliamentarians.

The DAAD, who accuse Abhisit of “stealing” power with the aid of the military, a charge he denies, had already forced the cancelation of the speech on Monday.

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