Thai government rejects army call for new elections


Thailand's army chief told the government today to step down and call a snap election as a way out of a deepening political crisis, but the government and protesters rejected the call.

Army chief Anupong Paochinda also pledged he would not launch a coup only two years after the military removed Thaksin Shinawatra as prime minister.

At a news conference in Bangkok, he told the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protest movement to end its crippling siege of Bangkok's international airport and cease its anti-government campaign.

"The prime minister should dissolve parliament and call a snap election," Mr Anupong said in outlining a four-point plan to end political crisis now in its fourth year.

Mr Anupong and other top military leaders made a similar intervention on national television last month, fuelling frenzied speculation of another military takeover in the coup-prone country. Now, as then, the government dismissed the idea.

"The prime minister has said many times that he will not quit or dissolve parliament because he has been democratically elected. That still stands," government spokesman Nattawut Saikuar told Channel 3 television.

PAD spokesman Suriyasai Katasila also rejected the plan. "We won't pull out, we won't leave if Somchai does not quit," he told reporters.

Mr Somchai, whom the PAD accuse of being a puppet of Mr Thaksin, his brother-in-law, landed in the northern city of Chiang Mai on his return from an Asia-Pacific summit in Peru, TPBS TV said.

Thai media reports speculated he may declare a state of emergency in Bangkok, where the PAD stormed Suvarnabhumi airport last night, stranding thousands of travellers after airport officials cancelled all flights.

The airport, which is the one of the world's busiest, averaging 700 flights a day, was closed after demonstrators broke through police lines and entered the passenger terminal.

Some 50 masked protesters armed with metal rods demanded to enter the control tower this morning, seeking the prime minister's flight schedule. Three were allowed in, but with flights cancelled, there were no controllers to provide the information and the protesters eventually left.

Following the airport protest, a rival pro-government group said it would launch its own street action, raising the prospect of clashes.

"What they have done are terrorist acts," Jatuporn Prompan, a ruling party politician and leader of the anti-PAD Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship (DAAD), told a news conference.

One senior DAAD source said the movement would consider any retreat by the government to be a military coup, and immediately launch a counter street offensive against the army. "There will be war for sure," the source said.