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Thai parliament to meet as protests undermine PM

MYT 11:02:08 AM

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's parliament was due to hold a special session on Sunday to debate street protests that have undermined Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, while his supporters planned a counter-rally in the capital.

A boy sports the Thai national colours on his cheeks and wears a head band which reads 'Liberate the country' while amidst protestors near the Government House in Bangkok on the fifth day of an anti-government rally August 30, 2008. (REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom)

Thousands of anti-government protesters, who say they will not give up until Samak is toppled, are camped in the grounds of his office. No police were visible around the compound on Sunday.

Samak remained defiant in a weekly radio address.

"I am not afraid but I am concerned about chaos in the nation," he said.

"We cannot let the seizure of Government House continue indefinitely without taking action," he added.

He flew to see head of state King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Saturday at the king's palace in the coastal town of Hua Hin. Reporters had expected him to make some sort of statement on his return to Bangkok but he avoided them at a military airfield.

The violence reached a peak on Friday when Bangkok police fired teargas and rubber bullets to repel an assault on their headquarters by around 2,000 protesters.

Unrest has spread around the country, with demonstrators forcing some airports to close and labour unions halting many rail services. The airport on Phuket -- Thailand's second-busiest after Bangkok -- remained closed on Sunday, leaving thousands of foreign tourists stranded on the resort island.

"The Phuket security must be reviewed. They have been trained to handle terrorists but what happens? How have they allowed these people to encroach on the runway?" Samak said in his radio programme.

"They have destroyed Thailand's image as the most attractive tourist destination."

The six parties in the government coalition expressed support for Samak on Saturday and supporters are expected to rally in front of the parliament building on Sunday.

Samak insisted on Saturday that he would not resign, telling thousands of supporters at an official event that he had been constitutionally elected in December and would never bow to the demands of the protesters.

"I came to this job under a legal mandate. I will only go if the law does not allow me to stay and not simply because someone issues threats and puts pressure on me," he said.

But speculation is growing that he will call a snap election, especially as his People Power Party is popular outside Bangkok.

Analysts said he would want to hold on until Wednesday, when parliament will debate, and probably approve, the government budget for the fiscal year starting in October. That would give sitting ministers funds to spend in ways that would support their election prospects.

The protests are led by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), a motley group of businessmen, academics and activists who accuse Samak of being an illegitimate proxy of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted by the army in 2006.

Samak denies the accusation. Thaksin is in exile in London.

Thai shares have fallen 23 percent since the street protests began in May amid fears of major unrest or policy paralysis at a time of stuttering economic growth and high inflation.

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