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Constitutional Court Rules Thai PM Violated Charter, Must Resign

A constitutional court found Thailand's prime minister guilty of breaching the national charter and ruled he must resign. As Ron Corben reports from Bangkok the court's decision adds to the political uncertainty in the country, with the government now having to go to parliament for a vote of confidence and then elect a prime minister.

Nine judges found Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej guilty of taking outside employment while in office.

Mr. Samak had hosted a television cooking show until after his election last December. However, he appeared on the show a few times after taking office.

Other members of the Cabinet remain in office and a caretaker prime minister is expected to take over until the People Power Party votes for a new leader.

PPP officials Tuesday vow to re-elect Mr. Samak the party leader, thus keeping him as prime minister.

Mr. Samak did not immediately comment on the ruling.

Panitan Wattanayagorn, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, says the verdict adds to the political crisis caused by thousands of protesters demanding that Mr. Samak resign.

"In the short term it adds to the confusion," Panitan said. "The government is now facing a legal crisis - it is now disqualified. The leader of the government, Khun Samak, is disqualified to be prime minister. He has to step down and perhaps to be elected again if he wants to do that."

Thousands of protestors cheered the verdict as they surrounded the government administration building. They have been there for two weeks, led by the People's Alliance for Democracy. Mr. Samak refuses to step aside, saying he will remain in office "to protect democracy."

Buranaj Samutharak, the spokesman for the opposition Democrat Party, says the crisis is not ended.

"The immediate declaration that they [the coalition] will re-elect Prime Minister Samak may heighten divisiveness and conflict in Thai society," Buranaj said.

His opponents say Mr. Samak acts for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was forced out by a coup in September 2006. He fled to Britain last month to avoid trial on corruption charges.

Thailand's urban middle class accused him of abuse of power and corruption. Mr. Thaksin and Mr. Samak remain popular with the poor and rural residents.