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Thai Government Survives No-Confidence Vote

Thailand's three-month-old coalition government won its first no-confidence vote Saturday, following a two-day debate that targeted five key cabinet members, including Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

The confrontation saw the opposition Puea Thai party accusing the government of corruption and mismanagement and comes ahead of likely street protests this week led by supporters of the exiled Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra.

Puea Thai, aligned with Shinawatra, forced several votes in parliament including a censure motion against the prime minister, but each motion was defeated by at least 53 votes.

Other issues raised in the debate included questions over Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya's ties to anti-government protesters who seized control of Bangkok's two airports late last year.

Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said the no-confidence debate appeared to have strengthened the three-month-old coalition government.

"It's quite normal when the coalition parties are under scrutiny they tend to become more unified to defend themselves," said Panitan. "The whole censorship motion seems to give more unity to the coalition government."

Panitan said the prime minister was not expected to make any changes in the cabinet line-up after the debate although the government was ready to take into account "observations" made by the opposition.

"The prime minister will evaluate their concerns and their observations and if there's any way to improve the performance of the government, I think the opposition parties' observations will be taken into account," Panitan said.

But Mr. Abhisit's government is also struggling with the on-going global downturn that has already led to a sharp fall in exports and increasing numbers of unemployed. Economists are forecasting a contraction in economic growth with unemployment likely to almost triple to 1.3 million from 500,000 at the end of last year.

Supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra are also expected to launch a new rally this week in a further bid to press the government to stand down and call national elections.

The Democrat Party coalition government came to power in December.

Thailand's political landscape has been in turmoil since Mr. Thaksin was ousted from office in 2006. During his term in office he faced on-going street protests largely led by middle class urban Thais who accused him of corruption and abuse of power. Mr. Thaksin last year fled the country after he was accused of corruption in a court ruling.

Pro-Thaksin supporters, recognized by their red shirts, have said the current government lacks legitimacy after coming to power with the backing of the business sector and military.