Thailand foreign minister quits

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Page last updated at 09:54 GMT, Thursday, 10 July 2008 10:54 UK

 

Thailand foreign minister quits

Noppadon Pattama

Noppadon Pattama insists he did nothing wrong

Thai Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama has resigned after a top court ruled he had violated the constitution by signing a deal over a disputed temple.

Cambodia had been petitioning to have the temple on the Thai-Cambodian border listed as a World Heritage site.

But judges ruled the government should not have backed Cambodia without asking parliament, as the temple is built on land disputed by the two countries.

Some Thais saw the move as an implicit surrender of sovereignty claims.

The Preah Vihear Hindu temple, near the Thai-Cambodian border, was awarded Unesco World Heritage status on Monday.

Assertive courts

Mr Noppadon made the announcement that he was stepping down on national television.

Preah Vihear temple (file picture)

 

Tranquil temple at centre of a storm

“But I insist that I have done nothing wrong. I have not sold out the country. I love Thailand, and would not cause any damage to the country,” he said, fighting back tears.

“I want to see national reconciliation. In order for the government to continue working to solve the country’s problems, I resign.”

Always a controversial choice as foreign minister – he used to be a lawyer for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a military coup in 2006 – Mr Noppadon’s position became untenable after backing the Unesco World Heritage bid.

His support for the temple’s listing sparked a wave of nationalist anger, and matters were made worse when the Constitutional Court ruled two days ago that the minister’s actions had violated the constitution.

Mr Noppodol is the second minister to resign from Thailand’s embattled government, and according to the BBC’s South East Asia correspondent Jonathan Head, he may well not be the last.

Another minister resigned in May over allegations he had insulted the king.

The constitutional court, one of the country’s top three judicial bodies, also disqualified the health minister from office this week.

The courts have become unusually assertive in punishing government officials for what in the past might have been viewed as minor offences, our correspondent says.

The role of the judiciary was strengthened by the new constitution, which was drafted under military rule last year, so it could act as a check on the power of elected governments.

As prime minister, Mr Thaksin was often accused of abusing his power – a principal reason given to justify the coup that ousted him.

The coalition government now led by his allies risks being crippled by these repeated judicial interventions, our correspondent adds.

The 900-year-old Hindu temple has been the subject of a border dispute for decades.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that it belonged to Cambodia and has been at the centre of a bitter dispute between the two neighbours ever since.

 

Thai impeachment drive gains ground

Wednesday, July 09, 2008
08:16 Mecca time, 05:16 GMT

Noppadon’s backing of Cambodia’s Unesco application was ruled unconstitutional [AFP]

Thailand’s political opposition is gathering support to impeach the country’s foreign minister over his involvement in a dispute over territory and an ancient temple in Cambodia.

The opposition Democrat party accuses Noppadon Pattama of supporting Cambodia’s bid to register an ancient temple with Unesco – a temple which Thailand also claimed as its own.

The move to impeach follows a ruling on Tuesday by the Constitutional Court that a joint communique Noppadon signed with Cambodia backing the application to register the Preah Vihear temple as a Unesco World Heritage Site was unconstitutional because the government failed to consult parliament on the matter.

Critics say the government’s endorsement of the communique undermined Thai claims to disputed territory around the temple.

Ong-art Klampaiboon, the Democrat party spokesman, said signatures of party members were being collected and that an impeachment motion was being drafted.

The opposition has used the long-standing temple issue, which has sparked growing nationalist sentiments, as a weapon against the government of Samak Sundaravej, the prime minister.

Some members of the senate have said they may seek to impeach the entire government which just last month survived a no-confidence motion.

Pressure on government

Unesco has named Preah Vihear as a World Heritage Site

Also on Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled against Yongyuth Tiyapairat, a former speaker of the parliament and an executive member of Samak’s People’s Power party, in a case of electoral fraud that could lead to the dissolution of the People’s Power party.

Yongyuth was banned from politics for five years and the Election Commission will now investigate whether his party was involved in the electoral fraud.

It will also forward the case to the Constitutional Court to decide whether to disband it.

Thai election law states that if a senior member of a political party is found guilty of electoral crimes, the entire party could be disbanded if that person is found to have acted on its behalf.

Yongyuth, who resigned from his post as house speaker in February, is a former adviser to Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister who was toppled in a 2006 military coup.

Thaksin has since returned to Thailand from exile to face a slew of court cases over corruption and abuse of power.

Pressure on the government, already reeling from daily street demonstrations, is almost certain to increase because of this week’s court rulings and an impeachment motion could prove possible.

But Kuthep Saikrajang, spokesman for the People’s Power party, remained confident that the six-party ruling coalition, which commands a majority in parliament, would weather the political storm.

“Even though the government is facing some troubles in legal cases the coalition partners reassure us that they are sticking with the People’s Power party,” he said.

The street demonstrators, led by the People’s Alliance for Democracy, say Samak’s government is merely a proxy for Thaksin, an accusation Samak denies.

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