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Page last updated at 12:51 GMT, Thursday, 4 September 2008 13:51 UK

Thai PM plans crisis referendum

Anti-government protesters react as they watch a TV report about Mr Samak's address
Protesters listened to Mr Samak's address, hoping he would resign

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej has announced plans to hold a national referendum in an effort to defuse the ongoing political crisis.

An exact date has not been decided, but a referendum can be held 30 days after being approved by the Senate.

Mr Samak also said he would not resign or bow to the demands of protesters, who have been occupying government offices since last week.

A state of emergency has been in place in Bangkok since Tuesday.

The anti-government protesters - from the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) - say Mr Samak is merely a proxy for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup in 2006 and is now in exile.

'Threat of anarchy'

Many of the protesters had expected Mr Samak to use a radio address on Thursday morning to step down, but he ruled that out.

"I am not resigning, I will not dissolve parliament. I have to protect the democracy of this country," he said.

BANGKOK PROTESTS
26 Aug: Protesters occupy government buildings, demand the government step down
27 Aug: Authorities issue arrest warrants for nine protest leaders
28 Aug: PM Samak promises no use of force against the protesters
29 Aug: Police try to evict protesters but pull back; crowds blockade two regional airports
30 Aug: PM Samak rules out resignation, following a meeting with Thailand's king
31 Aug: Parliament meets for a special session on the protests
1 Sep: A late-night clash between pro- and anti-government groups leaves one person dead
2 Sep: PM Samak declares a state of emergency
3 Sept: Thai FM Tej Bunnag resigns

He said he was a defender of democracy against a movement that threatened to bring "anarchy" to Thailand.

"The PAD is an illegal group who have seized the Government House and declared their victory. How can that be correct?" he said.

After his address, Mr Samak summoned his cabinet for an emergency meeting, and they agreed to hold a referendum to try to resolve the crisis.

A government spokesman said the referendum could take place by early October if the Senate quickly endorsed a bill to organise the vote.

Culture Minister Somsak Kietsuranond said the referendum would ask a range of questions including whether the government should resign, whether it should dissolve parliament and what people thought about the ongoing protests.

After hearing Mr Samak's radio broadcast, one of the PAD's leaders, Sondhi Limthongkul, told the French news agency AFP: "His speech only increased my confidence that what we are doing is not wrong. We will not go anywhere as long as he stays."

The PAD 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 Mr Samak, and Mr Thaksin before him.

The BBC's Jonathan Head, in Bangkok, says it is not clear how the referendum would help in Thailand's deeply polarised society - everything would depend on what questions were asked in the referendum and on how the vote was organised.

One of the PAD's main allegations against Mr Samak's party is that it either bribed or somehow fooled millions of people in poor rural areas to vote for it in the last election.

Presumably it could be accused of doing the same thing if it won a referendum, our correspondent adds.





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