News & Current Affairs

September 4, 2008

Thai PM plans crisis referendum

Thai PM plans crisis referendum

Anti-government protesters react as they watch a TV report about Mr Samak's address

Protesters listened to Mr Samak’s address, hoping he would resign

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej has announced plans to hold a national referendum in an effort to defuse the ongoing political crisis.

An exact date has not been decided, but a referendum can be held 30 days after being approved by the Senate.

In an earlier radio address, Mr Samak said he would not resign or bow to the demands of protesters who have been occupying his offices since last week.

A state of emergency has been in place in Bangkok since Tuesday.

The anti-government protesters – from the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) – say Mr Samak is merely a proxy for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup in 2006 and is now in exile.

‘Threat of anarchy’

“I am not resigning, I will not dissolve parliament. I have to protect the democracy of this country,” Mr Samak said in his radio address on Thursday morning.

He said he was a defender of democracy against a movement that threatened to bring “anarchy” to Thailand.

“The PAD is an illegal group who have seized the Government House and declared their victory. How can that be correct?” he said.

After his address, Mr Samak summoned his cabinet for an emergency meeting, and they agreed to hold a referendum to try to resolve the crisis.

BANGKOK PROTESTS
26 Aug: Protesters occupy government buildings, demand the government step down
27 Aug: Authorities issue arrest warrants for nine protest leaders
28 Aug: PM Samak promises no use of force against the protesters
29 Aug: Police try to evict protesters but pull back; crowds blockade two regional airports
30 Aug: PM Samak rules out resignation, following a meeting with Thailand’s king
31 Aug: Parliament meets for a special session on the protests
1 Sep: A late-night clash between pro- and anti-government groups leaves one person dead
2 Sep: PM Samak declares a state of emergency
3 Sept: Thai FM Tej Bunnag resigns

A government spokesman said the referendum could take place by early October if the Senate quickly endorsed a bill to organize the vote.

Culture Minister Somsak Kietsuranond said the referendum would ask a range of questions including whether the government should resign, whether it should dissolve parliament and what people think about the ongoing protests.

After hearing Mr Samak’s radio broadcast, one of the PAD’s leaders, Sondhi Limthongkul, told the French news agency AFP: “His speech only increased my confidence that what we are doing is not wrong. We will not go anywhere as long as he stays.”

The PAD has a passionate following in various parts of the country, especially Bangkok, and some powerful backers among the elite.

But it has little support in most of rural Thailand, which voted strongly for Mr Samak, and Mr Thaksin before him. Thai society remains deeply divided over the issue.

As the standoff has developed, some unions have begun supporting the protesters. However, a strike called by an umbrella group of 43 unions on Wednesday appeared to have failed – one piece of good news for the government.

But the prime minister’s attempt to contain the PAD protests with a state of emergency seem to have fallen flat.

The army has refused to exercise the extra powers he gave them, arguing that the conflict is a political one that cannot be solved by military intervention.


Are you in Thailand? Do you believe a referendum will diffuse the political crisis? Send us your comments

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August 7, 2008

Mauritanian army coup condemned

Mauritanian army coup condemned

General Ould Abdel Aziz

General Ould Abdelaziz is now in charge in Mauritania

There has been widespread international condemnation of theĀ  military takeover in Mauritania.

Troops overthrew the country’s first democratically elected president, Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, detaining him after he tried to dismiss army chiefs.

UN chief Ban Ki-Moon called for the “restoration of constitutional order”. Condemnation has also come from the US, the EU, and the African Union (AU).

The military promised to hold fresh elections “as soon as possible”.

In a statement released a day after Wednesday’s coup, the junta promised the polls would be “free and transparent”.

Meanwhile US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called for the immediate release of President Abdallahi and Prime Minister Yahia Ould Ahmed El-Ouakef, both of whom were detained by troops on Wednesday.

“The United States looks to all of our international partners to condemn this anti-democratic action,” she said in a statement.

The European Union warned that it may suspend aid to Mauritania.

The AU denounced the coup, demanded a return to constitutional government and said it was sending an envoy to the capital, Nouakchott, immediately.

Political crisis

On Wednesday the president tried to dismiss four senior army officers, including the head of the presidential guard, Gen Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz, who responded by launching the coup.

Map of Mauritania

A statement issued by a body calling itself the “State Council” and led by Gen Abdelaziz, was broadcast by Gulf-based Arabic television stations.

It said Mr Abdallahi – who came to power in polls last year, taking over from a military junta – was now a “former president”.

Troops deployed on Nouakchott’s streets fired tear gas to disperse about 50 protesters as the council annulled his previous decree dismissing the military chiefs.

The country has been in the grip of a political crisis since a vote of no confidence in the cabinet two weeks ago.

On Monday, 48 MPs walked out of the ruling party.

Reports suggest some of the generals orchestrated the mass resignation, says the BBC’s James Copnall in the region.

Food protests

Mauritania has a long history of coups, with the military involved in nearly every government since its independence from France in 1960.

Presidential elections held in 2007 ended a two-year period of military rule – the product of a military coup in 2005.

The elections were deemed to have been free and fair and appeared to herald a new era of democracy.

Earlier this year, however, the president dismissed the government amid protests over soaring food prices.

The cabinet that replaced it has been dogged by instability, lacking the support of a moderate Islamist party and a major opposition group that were in the former government.

Mauritania is one of the world’s poorest nations as well as its newest oil producer.

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