Embattled Thai PM will not stand down: minister

By Ambika Ahuja and Nopporn Wong-Anan

BANGKOK (BestGrowthStock) – Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva will not bow to “red shirt” protest demands and dissolve parliament, Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij said on Thursday as tens of thousands of demonstrators massed in Bangkok.

The city was calm on the final day of Thailand’s new year holiday but political analysts said Abhisit’s days were numbered and warned the risk of a military coup was escalating.

“He is not intending to do it,” Korn, a fellow student of Abhisit at Oxford, told Reuters in an interview when asked whether Abhisit would dissolve parliament after violence last weekend killed 22 people.

“It would be very negative for the country in the long term.”

The protesters, gathered at an upmarket shopping district, said they would step up their fight to topple the government on Saturday.

Red shirt leader Weng Tojirakarn said they would stage mini-rallies at all Thai television stations to complain about what they said was unbalanced coverage of the violence.

“They have been very biased against us and we want to explain our position so they cover both sides more fairly,” he told Reuters, adding that they merely want to hand letters to station executives and would not besiege buildings.

The red shirts stormed the compound of a satellite transmitting station last week to try to force the government to resume broadcast of their TV channel, which has been blocked on and off since a state of emergency was declared on April 7.

Police Major Gen Amnouy Nimmano told Reuters police would step up security at television stations.

Financial markets reopen on Friday when shares are expected to fall after a 3.64 percent plunge on Monday following the weekend fighting.

There seems no quick solution in sight to the protest campaign, which has lasted more than a month, and it looks set to hit growth in Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy.

Investment bank Morgan Stanley calculates economic growth this year could be cut by 0.2 percentage point due to the impact on tourism, which accounts for 6 percent of gross domestic product in the “Land of Smiles” and employs 1.8 million people.

A bigger hit of up to 0.6 percentage point of GDP could come from the loss of consumer confidence. The government has forecast 4.5 percent growth this year if the protests are not prolonged.

A taste of the economic damage came from a tour operator group that said hotel occupancy rates in the capital were under 30 percent, compared to the usual 80-90. [nSGE63E06S] Bars in the famous Nana plaza district were noticeably quiet.

“We are bleeding continuously as tour cancellations are made non-stop,” Charoen Wangananont, a spokesman for the Federation of Thai Tourism Associations, told local cable news network TNN.

On Langsuan Road, close to the protest site, a hotel porter dragged designer luggage down a small alley to bypass roadblocks.

“Soon the hotel will be empty. It’s almost a ghost hotel now,” said the porter who spoke on condition of anonymity. He said the occupancy rate at his hotel had dropped to 5 percent.

The road is home to the Grand Hyatt, the Four Seasons, and Marriott Courtyard among other luxury hotels and serviced apartments. Occupancy at the Marriott was just 8.5 percent, a receptionist said.

ABSENT ABHISIT

The police and army did not intervene to prevent protesters from gathering and were not in evidence on Thursday.

About 2,000 counter-protesters gathered near the city’s Victory monument calling for an end to the red shirts’ campaign.

Waving national and royal flags, they shouted “Come out. Come out,” calling for more people to join them.

“One month is too long now and there was violence so we came together because we had to do something,” said Tul Smithisomwong, a group leader, who denied links to rival yellow shirts.

Nearly 290,000 people signed a Facebook page that said “I am sure we can find more than a million Thais who are against dissolution of parliament.”

The red shirts, mostly supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, want Abhisit to quit immediately and have said they will use their base in the Rachaprasong business district as a “final battleground.”

Abhisit has been largely absent from the media, ensconced in a fortified army base on the outskirts of Bangkok.

“Badly damaged by the military response, Abhisit now has no other options than to go to the country or resign, both of which will set Thailand on course for an early election,” risk consultancy Control Risks said in a report published on Thursday.

“If threatened further by political instability, created for example by snap polls, the threat of military leaders launching a coup would rapidly escalate.”

Thailand has had 18 coups in the past 77 years, most recently in 2006 when Thaksin was ousted.

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(Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Jerry Norton)

Embattled Thai PM will not stand down: minister