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Thai Prime Minister Steps Down in Effort to Appease Military

From Times Wire Services

Prime Minister Chatchai Choonhavan resigned Saturday in an effort to settle conflicts with the military that threatened to destabilize his coalition government. But he was expected to be quickly reinstated.

“At this time he (Chatchai) has officially resigned but remains as the acting prime minister until the Parliament acts to select a new premier,” government spokesman Suvit Yodmanee said.

In fact, political sources said, the resignation was a maneuver meant to allow Chatchai to return to office with a free hand to eliminate troublesome ministers or parties from his coalition.

All Cabinet ministers automatically lost their positions with the prime minister’s resignation. Once reinstated, Chatchai would be able to choose a new Cabinet.

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Some observers said Chatchai could be back in his job as early as this week. He has already received pledges of support from two party leaders, including Kukrit Pramoj of the Social Action Party, the second-largest in Chatchai’s seven-party coalition.

Chatchai, a 68-year-old general and former diplomat, took power in August, 1988, as the first democratically elected prime minister since 1976 in a country with a tradition of military rule. The generally popular prime minister has proved a skillful political player, especially in neutralizing military power brokers.

He is widely expected to remove ministers who have become controversial because of their conflicts with the military or because of allegations of corruption against them.

Army leaders, whose support is seen as necessary for political stability, have been openly at odds with Chatchai since he reshuffled his Cabinet last month but failed to carry out a promise to remove an outspoken education minister, Chalerm Yubamrung.

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The army charged that Chalerm, the minister in charge of public broadcasting, had used a mobile radio truck to eavesdrop on secret military communications--allegedly to discover whether the military was planning a coup.

Chatchai said he changed his mind about firing Chalerm because he did not want it to appear as if the government was taking political orders from the military.


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