BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej vowed on Saturday not to quit in the face of intensifying protests aimed at toppling his seven-month-old government.
Speaking to thousands of supporters at an official event, Samak said he had requested an audience with King Bhumibol Adulyadej to brief him on the political situation as protesters occupied Government House for a fifth day.
Samak said he had been constitutionally elected in December and would never bow to the demands of the protesters, who are adamant they will remain camped out inside the PM’s official compound until his government falls.
“I will never resign in response to these threats,” he said, to roars of applause. “I came to this job under a legal mandate. I will only go if the law does not allow me to stay and not simply because someone issues threats and puts pressure on me.”
Later, Samak avoided reporters at a military airfield in Bangkok on his return from the king’s residence in the coastal town of Hua Hin.
One of the protest leaders, Sondhi Limthongkul, reiterated his pledge not to give up until Samak, whom he accuses of being an illegitimate proxy of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was out of office.
“It’s a deadlock, so we keep on protesting. We are determined,” he told reporters.
Although the atmosphere was calmer on Saturday than the day before, when police fired teargas and rubber bullets to repel an assault on their Bangkok headquarters, nobody knows how the deadlock will be broken.
Possible scenarios involve Samak resigning, a military coup, a police crackdown, a snap election, or even intervention by the king, who has stepped into several political disputes during his 60-year rule but only after bloodshed.
“This is a see-saw battle. It goes back and forth, and we don’t know how it will end,” Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University said.
Even though Samak appears to be on the back foot, Thitinan said he retained two powerful cards in the form of a good working relationship with the army and closer ties to the palace than any prime minister in the last 20 years.
“That royal trump card may allow Samak to hold his ground,” he said.
Samak won a minor victory when his five partners in the ruling coalition announced their continued support, allowing him to retain a large parliamentary majority.
Behind their makeshift barricades, thousands of People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) supporters milled around the Government House compound, listening to fiery speeches and singing patriotic anthems.
Samak met military officials on Friday amid speculation he may impose a state of emergency, but army chief Anupong Paochinda told reporters he had rejected the idea.
The Bangkok Post said Anupong privately suggested to Samak that he step down or call a snap election to halt the spreading protest movement.
Striking workers halted some rail services and demonstrators closed three airports, including one on the island of Phuket, where thousands of foreign tourists were left stranded. One of the airports, Hat Yai, was functioning again on Saturday.
Thai shares have fallen 23 percent since the street protests began in May amid fears of major violence or policy paralysis at a time of stuttering economic growth and high inflation.
(Additional reporting by Vithoon Amorn and Darren Schuettler)
Writing by Ed Cropley; editing by Darren Schuettler