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Thai cabinet meeting cancelled to avoid clashes

THE Thai government called off its weekly cabinet meeting today in an attempt to prevent violence between police and protesters who have laid siege to the prime minister's offices for six days.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said the government was holding back ahead of a court decision expected on Tuesday on its request to get the anti-government protesters to move.

Its lawyer filed for an injunction yesterday ordering the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), an extra-parliamentary group linked to ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, to give ministers safe passage into Government House.

"The injunction would grant a legal justification for us to enforce entry," Suthep said.

Suthep told Reuters on Monday that the UDD wanted to provoke a violent incident to force negotiations with Thaksin, who was found guilty on conflict of interest charges and now lives in exile, but he said the government would not fall into the trap.

Thaksin, in an address to protesters over a video link on Monday night, vowed to return to Thailand immediately to lead the protest to oust the government if force was used against them.

The former telecoms billionaire, who is believed to be living mainly in Dubai, urged his supporters to stage rallies across the country to "bring back democracy". Small protests were reported in central and northern parts of Thailand on Monday.

Abhisit and his ministers have avoided their offices at Government House since the protest began. Abhisit leaves for London today to represent Southeast Asian countries at the Group of 20 summit to discuss the global economic slump.

Economists are worried that the government is being distracted by the latest unrest in Thailand's long-running political crisis at a time when it should be concentrating on the economy, which is heading for a recession this year.

Suthep said the government was managing to roll out planned economic stimulus measures, but the concern was reflected on the stock market.

The benchmark SET index fell 2.54 percent yesterday, although the troubles in the US automobile industry were also a big factor, analysts said. The market was flat today, lagging a tentative recovery elsewhere in Asia.


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