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Abhisit takes on Thaksin's key program

THE Thai government is to give more money to the rural poor to jump-start the economy, the prime minister said yesterday, adopting and expanding a much-criticized key program of ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said he planned to double government spending in the program that provides grants to poor villages as part of a stimulus package.

Abhisit's Democrat Party had previously decried the program as a brazen attempt at buying the loyalty of the country's poor majority.

The government will also step up recruitment of college graduates for government jobs to offset rising unemployment and move ahead with plans to offer millions of low-income residents a one-time payment of 2,000 baht (US$57), Abhisit said.

"The fire is burning fiercely in the house, so we cannot be too economical on the water we use for putting out the blaze," he said.

Abhisit took office last December in a parliamentary vote after a court dissolved the pro-Thaksin party that finished first in 2007 elections. He has made fixing the economy a priority, and last week his Cabinet approved a 115 billion baht stimulus package.

A portion of that package will go toward reviving and expanding a village initiative launched by Thaksin, who was removed in 2006 in a bloodless military coup. Under the popular scheme, government grants were provided for infrastructure projects such as repairing roads and digging irrigation canals.

Thailand's export-driven economy has been hit hard by the global slowdown as well as months of political unrest last year that scared off foreign investors and tourists.


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