Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat rejected his army chief’s call on Wednesday to quit in the face of anti-government protests which threaten to spiral out of control across the country.
Speaking on national television, Somchai said his government was democratically elected and would continue to work for the “good of the country”, despite claims by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) it is the puppet of ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra.
Somchai’s refusal to call a snap election, as army chief Anupong Paochinda said he should at an earlier news conference, heightened speculation of an imminent coup, despite Anupong’s stated aversion to such a move.
Somchai returned to Thailand from an Asia-Pacific summit to find tempers flaring across the country and threatening to explode into civil unrest.
In the northern city of Chiang Mai, a pro-government gang shot dead an anti-government activist after dragging him from his car, the first serious violence outside the capital, police said.
Increasing the pressure on Somchai, Anupong told reporters in Bangkok the prime minister “should dissolve parliament and call a snap election” to end a crisis now in its fourth year.
The general also told the PAD street movement to end its crippling siege of Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport, where all flights were cancelled, leaving thousands of tourists stranded.
A court also issued an injunction telling the group to leave the airport, one of Asia’s largest.
Anupong repeated that he would not launch a coup two years after the military removed Thaksin, saying a putsch would not heal the basic rifts between the Bangkok elite who despise Thaksin, and the rural masses who love him.
Domestic flights out of Bangkok’s old Don Muang airport were also grounded, all but severing air access to the outside world.