Thai political parties back off as standoff hurts economy

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Bangkok, Jun 3 (UNI) Thailand's ruling and opposition parties have ended a standoff over amending the country's basic law, which was prepared by the former coup-installed regime amid growing concern that the confrontation could trigger another military takeover.

The ruling coalition and the main opposition Democrat Party have agreed to set up an all-party parliamentary panel that will include members of the public to study ways of improving the 2007 Constitution drafted by an assembly nominated by the makers of the September 2006 coup.

The government gave up its bid for selective changes in the 2007 Constitution in the face of strong parliamentary opposition backed by rising street protests organised by the influential civil society coalition which led similar demonstrations against former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra leading to his ouster by the coup.

Critics of the government plan to amend the constitution said, its aim was to protect the ruling coalition and Mr Thaksin from corruption probes under the legal system set up after the 2006 coup.

Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej's People's Power Party (PPP) and two of its ruling allies are being probed for electoral malpractices that could lead to their dissolution.

The proposed constitutional amendments were also seen as saving Mr Thaksin from a personal corruption investigation begun after the coup.

However, the Democrat party and others agreed there was need to modify the Constitution but this should be done through a process of broad public consultation.

The opposition to the government's proposed constitutional amendments was taken up by the anti-Thaksin People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) which had created a mass groundswell of public protest in Bangkok against Mr Thaksin's government in 2006.

Accusing the government of being a 'puppet' of Mr Thaksin, a PAD street rally in the heart of the capital entered its 10th day today. With a key minister having to quit after being accused of criticising the constitutionally protected monarchical institution, and Mr Samak's threat in a televised national address, to forcibly break up the PAD street protests, Bangkok is again gripped by rumours of another coup d'etat.

As the political uncertainty caused a stock market slide, senior members of the government and top armed forces personnel rushed to assure foreign business.

''I admit that the problem of protesters during the past week has affected the economy and investor confidence. I am explaining to them (investors) that the protests will not lead to violence or a military coup,'' said Finance Minister Surapong Suebwonglee.

He said Army Chief Gen Anupong Paojinda had told him that, ''No soldier wants to stage a military coup.'' Meanwhile, Supreme Commander General Boonsrang Niumpradit today advised the government and the PAD to resolve their differences peacefully.

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