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Thai Prime Minister Refuses to Step Down, Protests Continue


Thailand's prime minister has rejected demands by the country's top military leader for him to dissolve parliament and call new elections. As Ron Corben reports from Bangkok reports, the prime minister rejected the demands after returning home where he faced a wave of protests that have shut down the country's main airport.

Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, who returned home Wednesday following an overseas trip to the APEC summit in Peru, said his government was democratically elected and would continue to serve the country.

The prime minister said the country had been damaged by anti-government protests that had swept the country.

Earlier, Army Chief General Anupong Paochinda called on the prime minister to step down and hold a snap election.

General Anupong says the army is not looking to seize power but suggests the government return power to the people. He also called on the People's Alliance for Democracy or PAD to end its protests that in recent days included seizing the main international airport, which was still shut down late Wednesday.

General Anupong in early October called on the prime minister to resign after border patrol police opened fire with tear gas on demonstrators. Two people were killed and more than 400 others were injured.

PAD demands that Mr. Somchai resign, accusing him of acting on behalf of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Mr. Thaksin was ousted in a coup two years ago and the PAD considers him to be corrupt and authoritarian.

Mr. Somchai also says he will meet with his cabinet on Thursday to find ways to deal with the PAD protesters.

To push its demands the PAD this week blockaded parliament and kept the cabinet from meeting. Security forces have offered little resistance and seem determined to avoid clashes.

Kraisak Choonhavan, a member of parliament from the opposition Democrat Party, says the PAD has brought thousands of supporters in from the countryside.

"They're trying to stimulate what we call a strike that would immobilize the government," he said.

This PAD leader shouts to the thousands of protesters at the Suvarnabhumi International airport that they are not the bad guys. He says they are not thieves or puppets, a reference to protest signs calling the prime minister a corrupt puppet.

Thousands of PAD supporters took over the airport Tuesday evening and vow to keep it shut down until the government resigns. The unrest has stranded thousands of travelers.

Dieter Ghrling and his traveling companions were frustrated with the long wait and lack of information.

"We're waiting about 24 hours and we are finished. We have no energy," he said. "And we [going] back to Germany but we must stay here, as a group and wait for the bus. And it's a bad organization. Many people and a bad organization."

He says he will not return to Thailand next year, although he might come back in a few years.

Tourism accounts for about six percent of Thailand's economy. Even before the closure of the airport, bookings had fallen this year because of the weak global economy and the country's political tensions.

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