Thu, Feb 22, 2007 - Page 3 News List

Thailand's economics head resigns

AGENCIES , BANGKOK, NARATHIWAT AND YALA, THAILAND

A former deputy to deposed Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra resigned yesterday as head of the military government's new economics team, less than a week after he was appointed.

Somkid Jatusripitak was deputy prime minister when Thaksin fell from power, but the army-installed government had tapped him six days ago to head a new team charged with boosting sagging confidence in Thailand's economy.

The appointment of Somkid, also a former finance minister, sparked an uproar among supporters of the coup and had drawn threats of street protests.

"I want to stop this conflict early," Somkid told reporters.

"After consulting with the prime minister, I told him that I want to resign in order to defuse the conflict," he said.

His resignation was the latest in a series of abrupt shifts in Thailand's economic policy since the coup in September that forced Thaksin from office.

Analysts said his departure would only heighten investors' concerns about army-installed Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont's stewardship of the country's economy, after a series of embarrassing turnarounds.

Somkid, 53, had been appointed to help explain the government's new policies, which are based on a vague concept called the "sufficiency economy" espoused by Thailand's revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Authorities have struggled to explain exactly what the sufficiency economy means, but they insist it is a shift from Thaksin's policy of pursuing the dual tracks of welcoming foreign investment while stimulating domestic demand.

Somkid was the architect of that plan, which critics say is why he was poorly suited to the task of explaining the military government's new policy.

Investors have wondered if the sufficiency economy signalled a new breed of protectionism, as the government imposed limits on capital inflows and overhauled a law governing foreign investments with little consultation from the business community.

Meanwhile, suspected insurgents shot dead three people in the Muslim-majority south, police said yesterday, with the region still reeling from attacks that killed nine earlier this week.

A Muslim teacher, a former deputy village chief, was shot 10 times as he rode his motorcycle in Narathiwat Province early yesterday, police said.

Hours later a Buddhist woman was shot in Narathiwat while a Muslim village chief was shot in Songkhla Province late on Tuesday.

Suspected militants also destroyed a rubber warehouse in Yala Province yesterday, destroying stocks worth nearly US$12 million.

The warehouse, set ablaze in the early hours of the morning, contained around 5,000 tonnes of block rubber and unsmoked rubber sheet, but other parts of the plant were untouched, factory manager Kiat Kittikulseritham told reporters.

"Only the warehouse was burnt and it cost around 400 million baht [US$118,940] in financial damage," he said.

But the firm would have to stop buying unsmoked sheet, the raw material produced by farmers, until the warehouse was rebuilt, which could take up to a year, Kiat said.

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