Page last updated at 10:17 GMT, Friday, 17 October 2008 11:17 UK

Thai PM 'to stay' despite clashes


Thousands of Thais demonstrate in Bangkok

Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat has said he will stay in office despite calls for his resignation.

Mr Somchai spoke after thousands of Thais demonstrated in Bangkok, blaming him for the deaths of two protesters in clashes with police last week.

The army chief has hinted that the PM should step down over the deaths.

Protesters have been demanding the resignation of the government for weeks, saying it is too close to ousted former PM Thaksin Shinawatra.

Mr Somchai made the announcement after a hastily called meeting of the ruling party's coalition partners.

"The government has a duty to carry on the policies and tasks that are coming up," he told a news conference after the meeting, referring to a regional Asean summit in December, King Bhumibol Adulyadej's birthday and the funeral of a sister of the king.

'No legitimacy'

Pressure has been mounting on the prime minister to resign.

About 5,000 anti-government protesters stopped traffic in central Bangkok on Friday, distributing graphic photos and CDs showing wounds sustained by protesters in their clashes with police last week.

They held up placards calling the prime minister a murderer.

A small number of police kept their distance from the demonstrators.

Army commander Gen Anupong Paochinda
If I were the prime minister... I would definitely resign
Gen Anupong Paochinda

Two people died and nearly 500 people were hurt in last week's clashes outside parliament.

The police were accused of brutality for firing tear-gas grenades that blew off several people's limbs.

"The truth will show why the government has no legitimacy to run the country," said one of the protest leaders, Somsak Kosaisuk.

The protesters, led by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), say the government is acting on the orders of Thaksin Shinawatra.

PAD protesters have occupied a central government complex for weeks, demanding the government's resignation.

Mr Somchai took office after the judiciary deposed Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, an ally of Mr Thaksin, last month.

Mr Somchai is a brother-in-law of Mr Thaksin, who was overthrown in a military coup two years ago.

The army has promised not to launch another coup, but a statement on Thursday from Gen Anupong Paochinda was the strongest comment so far from the influential army leader about Mr Somchai.

Gen Anupong appeared on television saying: "If I were the prime minister, and a violent dispersal of protesters happened and caused loss of lives and resulted in injuries... I would definitely resign."

But he denied that the army was trying to pressure the government, and repeated his vow not to launch a coup.

The PAD has received support from another source. On Monday the country's queen and her youngest daughter attended the funeral of one of the protesters who died.

The entire traditional elite of Thailand appears to be ganging up against a government which still enjoys the support of millions of rural voters, says the BBC's Jonathan Head in Bangkok.

With the courts being urged to confiscate most of Mr Thaksin's assets, the aim seems to be to wipe out the foundations of his political power and ensure he cannot return to office, says our correspondent.

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