September 14, 2008 / 3:51 AM / 11 years ago

Thai emergency lifted, search for new PM goes on

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand’s acting prime minister lifted a state of emergency in Bangkok on Sunday, 12 days after it was enforced in response to violent clashes between pro- and anti-government groups.

A woman gives alms to Buddhist monks walking past an anti-government demonstration near the Government House in Bangkok September 14, 2008. Thailand's government has been paralysed since late August by anti-government protests. The People's Alliance for Democracy, a disparate group of royalist businessmen, academics and activists, accused Samak of being a puppet of Thaksin Shinawatra, the prime minister ousted by the army in a 2006 coup. REUTERS/Kerek Wongsa

“The level of violence has eased, and we see that if we continue to have the state of emergency, it will damage the country. Therefore, I ... announce the end of the state of emergency,” Somchai Wongsawat told a news conference.

Although tension has fallen, the political crisis is far from over.

The ruling coalition has not agreed on who should replace Samak Sundaravej, who was forced by the courts to resign as prime minister last week.

Parliament is to vote for a new prime minister on Wednesday.

Anti-government protesters led by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) have said they will not accept anyone from Samak’s People Power Party (PPP).

The lifting of emergency rule came after Somchai met army chief Anupong Paojinda and police chief Patcharawat Wongsuwan.

Emergency rule had little real impact because the army had refused to use force to evict protesters who have been occupying the prime minister’s official compound for nearly three weeks.

Anupong had called for it to be lifted because it was causing damage to the community and the economy.

It had hurt Thailand’s reputation abroad and deterred tourists, already put off by the violence and by the airport disruption caused by anti-government protesters.

The stock market has fallen around 25 percent since the PAD launched its anti-Samak street campaign in May. Analysts said the lifting of emergency rule might provide some support on Monday.

“The market should react positively because of this and the fact that Samak pulled out (of the race to become PM),” said Pichai Lertsupongkij, an analyst at Thanachart Securities, although he doubted any rise would be dramatic because investors would want to see the composition of the new government.

INTERNAL REVOLT

The government has been paralyzed since anti-government street protesters stepped up their campaign in late August.

A series of adverse court rulings also undermined Samak’s government. He was forced to step down on September 9 after the Constitutional Court ruled there was a conflict of interest when he was paid to host a TV cooking show while premier.

Samak could have been renominated but he withdrew his bid for a new term after a revolt inside the PPP.

The PPP, the main party in the ruling six-party coalition, says it will nominate one of its members for the premiership, putting it on a collision course with the PAD, a group of royalist businessmen, academics and activists.

The PAD is showing little sign of compromise and says it will continue its occupation of Government House if a PPP candidate is nominated.

Slideshow (3 Images)

It accuses Samak and his government of being a puppet regime for former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup in 2006 and now lives in exile in London.

PPP spokesman Kudeb Saikrachang said late on Saturday his party would name its candidate on Monday, and that the top three candidates were acting premier Somchai, Finance Minister Surapong Suebwonglee and Justice Minister Sompong Amornwiwat.

The vote for prime minister was postponed from Friday after a faction of 70 PPP members of parliament refused to back Samak, fearing his return would exacerbate the political tension.

Additional reporting by Ploy Chitsomboon; Writing by Alan Raybould; Editing by Paul Tait

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