Thai PM urged to quit over cooking shows

Court claims hosting duties were conflict of interest

BANGKOK -- A Thai court ordered the prime minister to quit on Tuesday for hosting TV cooking shows, but his party said it would re-elect him within the week and protesters vowed to keep up a campaign that has paralyzed the government.

Analysts said the guilty verdict should have provided at least a stop-gap solution to the crisis, but the likelihood of the stalemate dragging on for months will almost certainly take a further toll on Thailand's financial markets.

The Constitutional Court, in a televised broadcast, said Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej had violated the constitution by hosting cooking shows on commercial television while in office, calling it a conflict of interest.

Within minutes, the ruling People Power Party brushed off the verdict and said it wanted parliament to meet on Friday to re-elect the 73-year-old as prime minister.

Protesters from the People's Alliance for Democracy, who accuse Samak of being a puppet of Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted as premier by the army in a 2006 coup, said they would not move from Government House, where they have barricaded themselves for two weeks.

Deputy Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat -- who is Thaksin's brother-in-law -- will become acting prime minister, the government said, an appointment hardly likely to calm PAD anger.

"We will stay here until this government is thrown out," PAD leader Prapan Kunmee told the crowd from the rock concert-style protest stage that now sits on the front lawn of Samak's official compound. "Samak may come back."

The stock market, which has fallen 24% since the PAD started its street protest against Samak in May, closed down 0.3% on Tuesday, having shown little reaction to the verdict.

Testifying in his own defense on Monday, the belligerent star of the aptly named "Tasting, Grumbling" denied any wrongdoing and suggested that the case against him was politically motivated.

With the thick skin that has typified his behavior throughout, Samak toured a meat and vegetable market in Udon Thani on Tuesday before his weekly cabinet meeting.
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