Thai court dissolves ruling party, bans PM

A Thai court on Tuesday dissolved the ruling party and banned the premier from politics, plunging the kingdom into further uncertainty as an occupation of Bangkok's airports turned increasingly bloody.

Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat -- the target of months of protests -- will now step down after after the Constitutional Court ruled that his party should be scrapped because an executive was convicted of vote buying.

Pro-government demonstrators hold a national flag in front of Administrative court during a rally in Bangkok Tuesday Dec. 2, 2008.

Somchai was banned from politics for five years, along with 36 other People Power Party executives, achieving a key goal of royalist demonstrators who have blockaded the capital's two airports for the past week.

"My duty is over. I am now an ordinary citizen," Somchai, 61, told reporters in the northern city of Chiang Mai from where he has been governing since an opposition blockade of the airports began.

"But it is unexpected that the decision would come out this way. In the past I have done my best, not for myself but for our country," said Somchai, the brother-in-law of exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

The former lawyer spent less than three months in power, beset by protesters from the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) who accused his government of acting as a proxy for Thaksin and of being hostile to the monarchy.

About 500 angry government supporters massed outside the administrative court, where judges read the ruling live on national television after earlier rallies by the group forced them to change location.

"As the court decided to dissolve the People Power Party, therefore the leader of the party and party executives must be banned from politics for five years," said Chat Chonlaworn, head of the nine-judge court panel.

"The court had no other option," he said.

Riot police with bullet-proof shields stood guard, as tensions in Thailand remained on the brink with the anti-government PAD continuing their week-long crippling airport siege.

The ruling came after a blast early Tuesday killed one protester and injured 22 others at the domestic Don Mueang airport. He died from shrapnel wounds to the stomach, an emergency services spokeswoman told AFP.

It also came just hours after the PAD ended a three-month sit-in at the prime minister's offices in Bangkok, following a series of similar attacks, and redeployed supporters to Don Mueang and the Suvarnabhumi international airport.

The PAD, who dress in yellow which they say symbolises their devotion to Thailand's much-revered king, are backed by the Bangkok business elite and middle classes, along with elements in the military and the palace.

Thaksin, whose supporters dress in red, is hugely popular with Thailand's rural and urban poor, especially in the north, his native area.

Two of the PPP's coalition partners were also dissolved because some of their executives were convicted of vote fraud after elections in December 2007 -- the first since the 2006 coup that ousted Thaksin.

Together the three banned parties controlled about a third of parliament.

The PPP was ready to move lawmakers into a shell party called Pheu Thai (For Thais) formed in anticipation of the verdict and continue administering the country, spokesman spokesman Kudeb Saikrajang said.

The PPP had boycotted the court proceedings.

"I am sad to hear this devastating ruling which we had no chance to defend," Kudeb told AFP. "But our remaining 216 MPs will move to the Pheu Thai party and bid to open the house to elect a new prime minister."

The unrest continued to take a heavy toll on the 350,000 travellers stranded in Thailand by the crisis, with three tourists including two Canadians dying in road accidents as they tried to flee the "Land of Smiles."

A Hong Kong national was also killed -- in the same accident, according to some reports.

Airline passengers have been flooding to a naval base southeast of Bangkok and to the southern tourist town of Phuket to try to escape the country, along often dangerous roads.

The turmoil also forced Thailand to postpone a summit of the Southeast Asian bloc ASEAN, which was due to be held in Chiang Mai in mid-December.

Source AFP

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