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Thai king upset about political logjam -army chief

Written by: Staff
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BANGKOK, May 18 (Reuters) The Thai army has added its weight to efforts to unravel a complex political crisis by letting it be known publicly that revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej is upset at continued squabbling about an initiative he launched.

Army Commander-in-Chief Sonthi Boonyaratglin said he and the navy and air force chiefs were seeking an audience with the king, who told top judges three weeks ago to sort out the mess after an inconclusive election, to ask how they could help.

''The country's problem, which originated some time ago and has prevailed until now, has saddened His Majesty, which has upset and worried me,'' Sonthi was quoted by the Thai Post newspaper on Thursday as saying.

''As a soldier of His Majesty, I would like to help him relieve his worry and the Army will adhere strictly to whatever advice he gives us,'' Sonthi said in remarks interpreted as intended to put pressure on squabbling politicians.

After the king summoned the top judges to give them responsibility for finding a way out of the crisis, the courts declared illegal the April 2 general election Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra called to counter a street campaign.

But almost nothing has happened since and Thaksin has not confirmed whether he will stick by his promise not to stand for prime minister when parliament does convene.

The top judges told the Election Commission, accused of bias towards Thaksin, to quit. One of its four members has, but the three others remain defiant.

LOGJAM Analysts said Sonthi's remarks were aimed at putting pressure on politicians of all stripes to break the logjam, with the resignation of the Election Commission a first step.

''He is telling every party concerned to start behaving as suggested by His Majesty and stop their mere lip service,'' independent political analyst Prayad Hongtongkhum said.

Others said it was the matter of when, not if, the Election Commission would go and allow the Supreme Court to find replacements acceptable to all to run a new election after the last poll left seats empty and parliament unable to meet.

''Their days are numbered. They have to start counting down to their cremation day,'' radio commentator Piroon Chatwanichkul said.

Thaksin called the snap election three years early to thwart a street campaign against him by foes accusing the billionaire prime minister of corruption and abuse of power, charges he denies.

But an opposition boycott left seats empty and parliament could not meet to elect a new prime minister to form a government. The king then made a rare public intervention.

Early this week, Sonthi, who became predominantly Buddhist Thailand's first Muslim Army chief when Thaksin promoted him last October, reiterated that the days of military intervention in the coup prone country were over.

Despite past calls for the Army, which staged its last coup in 1991, to intervene again, Sonthi said a coup would ''destroy democracy''.

REUTERS SB ND1416

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