Page last updated at 22:42 GMT, Sunday, 31 August 2008 23:42 UK

Thai MPs call for Samak to quit


Protests in support of Thai PM

Opposition MPs in Thailand have renewed calls for the prime minister to resign, at a special session called to discuss continuing anti-government protests.

One politician said Samak Sundaravej's aggressive manner had fuelled protests, including the occupation of the main government compound in Bangkok.

Mr Samak, whose coalition has a sizeable parliamentary majority, rejected the resignation calls.

Protesters say his party is a front for former leader Thaksin Shinawatra.

Mr Thaksin was ousted by a military coup in 2006 and has fled the country to avoid facing trial over corruption charges.

Mr Samak called the special session of parliament in a bid to break the deadlock with his opponents.

Thousands of protesters have occupied government buildings for six days. The demonstrations have also spread to the rail network, with many services disrupted.

PAD protest in Bangkok (30 August 2008)
The protest has already developed into a people's revolution
Protest leader Sondhi Limthongkul

During the debate, opposition MP Jurin Laksanavisit told the prime minister: "You should ask yourself whether you should maintain the premiership."

But Mr Samak, whose coalition took power after winning almost two-thirds of the 480 seats in parliament in December elections, hit back at his opponents.

"Your solutions do not show that you want to keep democracy," he said.

"Why are the only solutions house dissolution and resignation? Why can't we choose the third option, which is to show the world that we maintain our democracy."

Protest leaders said they were unimpressed by the parliamentary debate and renewed their pledge to continue until Mr Samak leaves office.

Airports reopen

Sunday also saw a counter-demonstration by hundreds of government supporters.

On Saturday Mr Samak flew to the coastal town of Hua Hin to hold an unexpected meeting with King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The BBC's Jonathan Head, in Bangkok, says there was no indication that Mr Samak received any encouragement from the meeting.

The protests against Mr Samak's government are being led by a conservative group called the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD).

On Tuesday, thousands of PAD supporters took to the streets of Bangkok and forced their way into official buildings including the prime minister's official compound, Government House.

Sept 2006: Bloodless coup by military sees PM Thaksin Shinawatra removed from office
April 2007: New military-drafted constitution approved
Dec 2007: General election won by People Power Party (PPP), seen as reincarnation of Thaksin's now banned Thai Rak Thai party
Jan 2008: Samak Sundaravej chosen as PM
Feb 2008: Thaksin returns from exile
May 2008: PAD protests against Samak begin
July 2008: Thaksin goes on trial for corruption; his wife is found guilty of fraud. By mid-August the family has fled to the UK
August 2008: PAD protests escalate

Mr Samak was initially praised for his restraint in dealing with the protests, but he found his position weakened on Friday when the police pulled back, leaving triumphant protest leaders in control of the building.

About 2,000 protesters then besieged the city's police headquarters, prompting the police to fire what appeared to be tear gas to disperse them.

Protesters also occupied runways in the popular island resorts of Phuket and Krabi, preventing planes from landing and taking off and leaving thousands of tourists stranded.

Both airports reopened on Sunday, and a third regional airport, Hat Yai, reopened on Saturday.

The PAD was originally formed in the months before the 2006 coup, to demand Mr Thaksin's resignation. It re-emerged after Mr Samak - a former Thaksin ally - was elected last December.

It has a passionate following in various parts of the country, especially Bangkok, and some powerful backers among the elite.

But it has little support in most of rural Thailand, which voted strongly for Prime Minister Samak, and Mr Thaksin before him.


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