Page last updated at 09:00 GMT, Friday, 30 May 2008 10:00 UK

Thaksin ally quits Thai cabinet

By Jonathan Head
BBC News, Bangkok

Thai minister Jakrapob Penkair 30 May 2008
Mr Jakrapob insists he intended no offence

A Thai cabinet minister allied to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has resigned after being accused of criticising the monarchy.

Jakrapob Penkair stepped down after the police said they would charge him with lese majeste, a serious offence which can lead to a 15 year prison sentence.

The move comes amid political tension over the government's plans to revise the military-drafted constitution.

Rumours of another military coup are shaking investor confidence.

Deep rift

Political careers in Thailand routinely survive all sorts of mud-slinging - but any allegation of disloyalty to the monarchy is usually fatal.

So it has proved to Jakrapob Penkair, an outspoken cabinet minister and one-time protege of Thaksin Shinawatra, the billionaire prime minister who was ousted by a military coup in September 2006.

The offending comments were made in English in a speech to foreign correspondents last August. Their translation and interpretation have been the subject of intense debate.

Mr Jakrapob insists he intended no offence.

The issue is a highly emotional one in Thailand.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej is almost universally revered here - but he is 80 years old, and there is barely-concealed public anxiety over the succession.

Opponents of Mr Thaksin, whose allies run the current government, believe he has a hidden, anti-monarchy agenda.

So when the government announced it would try to amend the military-drafted constitution earlier this year, that prompted a resumption of street protests by some of the same groups who led the campaign against Mr Thaksin two years ago.

They will doubtless see the resignation of one of his most loyal supporters in the government as a victory.

But the deep rift between the pro- and anti-Thaksin camps is still unresolved, after more than two years.

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