12 Oct 2008

Thailand's new PM may resign amid anti-govt protests

10:51 am on 12 October 2008

Thailand's embattled prime minister has indicated he may resign in the wake of fierce anti-government protests earlier this week that left two people dead and hundreds injured.

Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, who has held the job for little more than three weeks, spoke as protesters prepared for another mass rally.

Senior military leaders, who are influential in coup-prone Thailand, have put pressure on the premier to solve the crisis quickly.

Supreme Commander General Songkitti Jaggabatara, the kingdom's highest-ranking military officer, said he had consulted the heads of the army, navy and air force, which he oversees.

"We have held consultations between the three armed forces. I have told the government to solve the problem," Mr Songkitti told reporters.

"As of now there is no coup, it's not time for the military to come out," said Songkitti, whose role is largely ceremonial.

Two killed in Tuesday's demonstration

On Tuesday police fired tear gas on demonstrators who had blockaded parliament to protest a government plan to amend the country's constitution.

In the bloody clashes that followed between the protesters and police, two demonstrators were killed and nearly 500 injured in the worst street violence Bangkok has seen in 16 years.

Mr Somchai has since announced an independent investigation into the incident.

The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) claims the current government is running the country on behalf of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled in a September 2006 coup following other PAD protests.

PAD has also deposed Mr Thaksin's ally, former prime minister Samak Sundaravej.

Mr Thaksin, who now lives in exile in Britain, has had several corruption charges laid against him and his wife Pojaman.

Mr Somchai is struggling to govern Thailand amid political protests that show no signs of abating. As the brother-in-law of Mr Thaksin he is distrusted by the protesters.

Thai society is bitterly divided between supporters of the populist government, mostly the rural poor, and the country's royalist elite, who form the mainstay of support for the anti-government protesters.