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Thailand's ousted premier quits his party as it crumbles following coup

Thailand's ousted premier quits his party as it crumbles following coup

Thailand's deposed premier Thaksin Shinawatra resigned from his once all-powerful party in a letter faxed from London on Tuesday, after more than 200 colleagues quit the organization in the wake of a military coup.
Thaksin insisted his Thai Rak Thai party would survive the fallout, but other key members and analysts pronounced the mass exodus and Thaksin's resignation as the death knell for the party that had a stranglehold on Thai politics since 2001.
"I have to resign because of the current atmosphere and to protect the future of the party," Thaksin said in a three-page handwritten letter, his first detailed statement since a military council ousted him from power on Sept 19, accusing him of corruption.
In the letter, which was distributed at Thai Rak Thai's headquarters, Thaksin defended himself against accusations of wrongdoing and described his departure as a sacrifice for the nation.
"I have ... decided to make a sacrifice by resigning from the leadership of the Thai Rak Thai party effective starting now," said Thaksin, who founded the party in 1998. "I have to apologize to party members and people who do not want me to resign. I want to stress that it is necessary."
Thaksin assigned deputy party leader Sudarat Keyuraphan to serve as the acting head of the party, but the move was largely seen as ceremonial since all parties are banned from engaging in politics under restrictions imposed by coup leaders.
One party leader pronounced the departures as the end of Thai Rak Thai, which means "Thais love Thais."
"The legacy of the Thai Rak Thai party is over. The Thai Rak Thai has died along with Thaksin Shinawatra," said Pongpol Adireksan, a deputy party leader.
He said that an executive order issued by the ruling military council Saturday "clearly showed that it aims to dissolve the Thai Rak Thai and shut the door for Thaksin to return to politics." He added that more than 200 party members had resigned since Saturday.
The order will ban members of a political party from politics for five years if courts find the party had breached election laws and is dissolved. Thaksin's party, which held a parliamentary majority after several landslide election victories, is under legal scrutiny for alleged violations during a snap election in April called by Thaksin.
Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, whose party was in opposition during Thaksin's five years in power, said "there is nothing to stop Thaksin regrouping."
Others, however, said Thaksin now faces a major challenge should he want to return to politics.
"Thai Rak Thai built a huge brand-name in a short time," said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political science professor at Chulalongkorn University. "It will be a long haul for Thaksin now. Even if he is allowed to come back, he'll have to build up a new brand."
Thaksin was overthrown in a bloodless coup while he was abroad on official business in New York. After the coup, he flew to London, where he has an apartment and has kept a low profile.
Thaksin was accused of widespread corruption and abuse of power that prompted mass anti-government protests earlier this year. Coup leaders said they intervened to avoid imminent, violent clashes between anti- and pro-Thaksin forces.
Thaksin defended himself against the accusations in his resignation letter.
"All along I have devoted my time and hard work to the benefit of the nation and the people," he said. "I worked all along in accordance with the rule of law and the constitution."
Surayud Chulanont, a former army commander, on Sunday replaced him, becoming interim prime minister.
The coup leaders have assured investors that the interim government will support local and foreign investment and give the private sector a leading economic role.
On Tuesday, Bangkok Bank executive chairman, Kosit Panpiemras, reportedly agreed to a Cabinet position, according to the Krungthep Turakij newspaper's Web site.
Kosit has served in past governments as a finance minister, minister of industry and minister of agriculture and cooperatives, but the newspaper did not say what post he would take this time.
Kosit is the second respected economic figure to agree to join the new government after Central Bank governor Pridiyathorn Devakula.
Western nations and human rights groups have nevertheless criticized the coup as a setback for democracy, and the appointment of ex-military man Surayud as interim prime minister has done little to ease that disapproval.
An interim constitution to replace the 1997 one scrapped by the military empowers the coup leaders to remove the prime minister and Cabinet, and to select a committee to draft a permanent constitution. It maintains martial law and other restrictions imposed by the military, including curbs on press freedoms and limits on public gatherings.