Thai PM to reshuffle cabinet as ministers quit

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BANGKOK, Oct 1 (Reuters) Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said today he was reshuffling his cabinet after five ministers quit over shareholding controversies a day after a small bomb exploded near the army headquarters.

Two more ministers resigned in the wake of three who quit after the anti-graft agency found them to hold stakes in companies above the limit set for ministers, Surayud told reporters after a meeting with them.

Surayud said he would appoint a deputy prime minister for national security, but declined to say if it would be newly retired Army chief Sonthi Boonyaratglin, who ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a bloodless coup last year.

''As a matter of etiquette, I can't reveal all the names until they have already been royally endorsed,'' Surayud said.

Defence Minister Boonrawd Somtas told INN radio news agency yesterday after playing golf with Surayud that Sonthi had agreed to take the deputy prime minister post and a royal appointment was expected in ''a couple of days''.

It was not clear whether Sonthi would also become Interior Minister, responsible for the December 23 general election, after Aree Wongsearaya quit as one of the ministers found to have to exceeded the shareholding limit.

Sonthi resigned today as chairman of the Council for National Security (CNS), as the coup leaders call themselves, but remained willing to work on ''other security matters,'' he said in a letter quoted to reporters by a CNS spokesman.

The other two ministers who resigned on Monday were Environment Minister Kasem Sanitwong Na Ayutthaya and Deputy Foreign Minister Sawanit Kongsiri.

Surayud also said the small bomb that exploded at a phone booth near army headquarters late on Sunday and wounded two bomb squad members might have been politically motivated.

Sonthi's assistants blamed the blast on the ''old power clique'', referring to supporters of Thaksin.

Bangkok was hit by a spate of small bombs on New Year's Eve, which killed three and injured scores of Thais and tourists. The government and the military also blamed them at the time on Thaksin supporters, a charge they denied.

There have been no arrests following those bombs.

REUTERS SKB AS1735

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