September 7, 2008 / 3:43 AM / 11 years ago

Thai PM says no chance of a coup, going to U.N

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand’s embattled prime minister said on Sunday there was no chance of a coup against his government and that he would go to the U.N. General Assembly session in New York later this month as scheduled.

Soldiers take part in exercises near the Government House in Bangkok September 6, 2008. Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej is facing a three-month-old campaign to drive him from power as thousands of anti-government activists have barricaded themselves in his official compound for the past 12 days and refuse to move until he quits. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

Thailand’s last elected prime minister was removed from office in a military putsch just hours before he addressed the General Assembly on a similar visit in 2006.

“I will go to speak at the United Nations, even though Thaksin (Shinawatra) went to speak there and did not return,” Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej said in his regular weekly television broadcast.

“I can still handle the situation.”

Samak is facing a three-month campaign for his ouster and thousands of anti-government activists have barricaded themselves in his official compound, refusing to move until he quits.

The prime minister has offered to hold a referendum on his seven-month rule, but the activists of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) have rejected the offer.

“The army chief has already said there is no reason to launch one,” Samak said, referring to widespread speculation that the highly politicized military could stage a coup, as it has about two dozen times since Thailand ended absolute monarchy in 1932.

On Saturday, military Supreme Commander Boonsrang Niumpradit told Reuters senior officers had met to discus the political crisis facing the nation and nobody was thinking of intervening.

“But if it drags on like this and people keep telling the army to launch a coup, I don’t know what will happen.”

Analysts say Samak’s offer to hold a referendum makes it harder to force his ouster through intervention either by the military or by revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who has stepped into disputes in the past.

Samak, who was elected to head a coalition government in January, is widely viewed as a puppet of Thaksin, who now lives in exile in London.

Thaksin is still admired by rural Thais who handed him huge parliamentary majorities in return for his populist programs, but despised by Bangkok’s middle class, the military and the royalist establishment, who all opposed his modernizing agenda.

He was also accused of abuse of power and corruption while in office.

The PAD, a hodgepodge collection of retired army officers, royalists and academics, also paints itself as a guardian of the king against a supposed Thaksin bid to turn Thailand into a republic, a charge denied by both Thaksin and the government.

Thai stocks have fallen more than 26 percent since the PAD launched its campaign at the end of May, while the baht has plunged to a 19-month low against the dollar, although both markets have also been hurt by high inflation and the global economic slowdown.

Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Bill Tarrant

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