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Thailand lifts emergency, citing drop in tourism

AP  Sep 14, 2008

BANGKOK, Thailand — The Thai government ended a state of emergency imposed in the capital to control a violent political crisis, saying on Sunday it had only served to scare away tourists crucial to the country's economy.

Emergency rule was imposed by the government on Sept. 2 after a night of violent clashes between anti-government supporters and opponents left one man dead and dozens injured.

Images of the mayhem were broadcast around the world, prompting travel advisories from several countries.

Calm was quickly restored and business and daily life continued as normal in the Thai capital. The army refused to exercise its authority under the decree to oust tens of thousands of protesters from the prime minister's compound, where they have been camped in tents since Aug. 26.

Acting Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat urged all sides in the deepening political standoff to compromise and help restore the country's image.

"If we continue the state of emergency it could damage the country's economy," Somchai said after meeting with the army chief and other senior security officials.

The stock market has fallen about 25 percent since anti-government protesters started their campaign with street demonstrations in May.

"We should bring back the smile to the country once again, as we are called 'The Land of Smiles.' We have to restore outsiders' confidence, especially tourists, that we are a peaceful country and have no more conflict," Somchai said. "I am confident that all parties concerned will soften their stance and come to a compromise."

The spirit of compromise will be tested this week as Parliament seeks — for a second time — to elect a new prime minister who will be acceptable to all sides.

Former Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, who took office after December elections, was forced to resign Sept. 9 when the Constitutional Court ruled he had violated conflict-of-interest laws by accepting money to host TV cooking shows while in office. The ruling was an unrelated twist to the political crisis.

Protesters accused Samak of being a stooge of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who recently fled to Britain to escape corruption charges. Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 military coup after street demonstrations by the same protest group.

The protesters, who call themselves the People's Alliance for Democracy, are a mixture of monarchists, members of the military and the urban elite. They complain that Western-style democracy gives too much power to the rural poor, who they say are susceptible to vote buying. The alliance proposes a rollback of democracy by replacing an elected Parliament with one that is mostly appointed to keep power in the hands of the educated elite.

"Removing the state of emergency has no effect on our rally because it does not solve the current problems in Thai politics," said an alliance spokesman, Parnthep Wongpuapan. "We will stay here and we will continue calling for the current system to be cleaned up."

Samak's allies in the People's Power Party, the main component in a six-party governing coalition, have so far failed to agree on who should replace him.

The PPP had hoped to renominate Samak when Parliament convened last Friday in an initial attempt to choose his successor. But the vote was boycotted by 70 party members and PPP's coalition partners. Samak has since withdrawn his bid for a new term.

The PPP insists it will nominate one of its members for the premiership. Three names have emerged as possible candidates, including interim Prime Minister Somchai, who was deputy prime minister and education minister in Samak's Cabinet and is a brother-in-law of Thaksin; Justice Minister Sompong Amornwiwat, a veteran but low-profile politician; and Finance Minister Surapong Seubwonglee, another deputy prime minister and finance minister and a Thaksin confidante.

None of the three is likely to appease anti-government protesters, whose initial goal was to oust Samak but now say they won't accept any successor from his party.

Democracy in Thailand has a history of fragility, with the military staging 18 coups since the country became a constitutional monarchy in 1932. Samak's faceoff with anti-government protesters is only the latest conflict in two years of political tumult.

Thailand lifts emergency, citing drop in tourism

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