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Thai Prime Minister Dismisses Burma Coup Rumors


Thailand's Prime Minister says rumors of a coup in neighboring Burma are not true, and a visit to Rangoon next week by his foreign minister will go ahead as planned.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra dismissed rumors Thursday that Burma's top military leader, General Than Shwe, has been deposed by his deputy, Army Commander Maung Aye.

Mr. Thaksin says he has received confirmation from all sources that the rumor of a coup was not true. He did not elaborate.

The rumor began spreading Tuesday in Burma, driving up the price of gold and the U.S. dollar there. However, a variety of sources in Rangoon, including the opposition National League for Democracy, dismissed the reports, saying the city was calm. And diplomatic sources said senior military leaders have been going about their duties normally.

There have been reports of power struggles among the military leadership since then-Prime Minister Khin Nyunt was dismissed last October and the powerful Military Intelligence service, which he headed, was dismantled.

The current military junta came to power after crushing a pro-democracy movement in 1988. It convened a national convention this year to draft a new constitution aimed at bringing democracy, but critics say the charter is designed to keep the military in power.

Prime Minister Thaksin was speaking at the first of what he said would be regular news conferences aimed at explaining government policies. His party won a landslide victory in elections in February, but has been shaken in recent months by continuing violence in the southern provinces, economic problems due to rising petroleum prices and allegations of corruption.

In the South, more than 800 people have been killed in 20 months of bombings and drive-by shootings. The prime minister acknowledged that the number of attacks has not declined, but said the situation was improving.

"You might think that it's worse," he noted. "But if you think about the total situation, how much you [the government] control, I think it's much better now."

He noted that arrests had been made and some attackers had turned themselves in. He said the government now knows the root causes, a combination of criminal conflicts and separatist movements. He also underscored that the violence is home-grown, and has nothing to do with international terrorism.

Mr. Thaksin responded to opposition charges of rampant corruption in several ministries, including Agriculture and Transportation, saying they are being investigated, and he believes the situation will improve in two or three years.

He also announced that he will visit the United States next month to address the United Nations General Assembly. He said he would call on President Bush to discuss what he described as "routine matters."

"There are no pending issues between our two countries. It's just follow-up matters," he said.

He said he would probably discuss speeding up negotiations on a free trade agreement between the two countries and added that he would visit Japan later this month on a similar mission.

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