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Thai Prime Minister Sets Election Dates


Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont says new elections will be held December 16 or December 23, to restore elected democratic government. As Ron Corben reports for VOA Mr. Surayud also rejected calls by the junta leader to impose emergency powers in Bangkok before expected anti-government protests.

Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said the December date for new elections was within the time frame set by the military when it took power in September last year, ousting the elected government of Thaksin Shinawatra.

Mr. Surayud also told reporters he had rejected calls from the leader of the coup, General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, to impose emergency rule in Bangkok.

The general says he fears spreading protests could turn violent, hindering efforts to hold elections. He wanted emergency powers that would have allowed detention without charge for 30 days, phone tapping, and press censorship.

Abhisit Vejjajiva, leader of the Democrat Party, welcomed the decision to avoid further military controls.

"I do not think the situation warrants anything like that and it would actually reinforce the rather negative impression about the state of democracy and the state of the country," he said. "As far as the election is concerned I think it is an acceptable date."

Anti-government protests have been growing in recent weeks, expressing a deepening sense of frustration with the junta.

Protest leaders come from different sides of the political spectrum - including former members of the ousted Thaksin government, and former opponents of Mr. Thaksin who believe it was wrong to depose him in a military coup.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a professor of politics at Chulalongkorn University, says the junta must stay calm if it wants to ease political uncertainty and tension.

"I suspect we are going to see more volatility, instability in the second half of the year," he said. "If the coup makers are not patient and they resort to emergency decrees, emergency powers in Bangkok, this is likely to galvanize more protesters onto the streets."

Tensions on the streets of Bangkok coincide with stepped up efforts by the military to prosecute Mr. Thaksin, members of his family and associates of the former government.

The government says it will hold a referendum in September on a new constitution, a final draft of which is to be completed by July. This would fulfill another pledge made by the military-backed government when it took power.

Mr. Thaksin's wife was charged this week with tax evasion over share deals linked to the family controlled satellite and communications company Shin Corp. Other corruption cases against the former government are also pending.

The military had pointed to corruption and abuse of power by the Thaksin government as its justification for the September coup, which was the 18th coup or coup attempt since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.