Thai prime minister resumes duties

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra will return to work to handle some key duties, a spokesman said Friday, weeks after the Thai leader took a leave of absence following massive protests demanding he resign. Thaksin meanwhile met with King Bhumibol Adulyadej Friday evening amid continuing steps to end the political crisis that has left the country with an interim government and no parliament.

Neither Thaksin nor the palace announced any details of their meeting, although before the event government spokesman Surapong Suebwonglee described it as routine. The last time Thaksin met with Thailand 's revered constitutional monarch, in April, the prime minister announced his leave of absence just hours after.

That meeting followed a controversial general election; Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party won the poll but a number of unfilled parliamentary seats left the country in political limbo. New elections have yet to be scheduled.

Thaksin earlier Friday chaired a meeting on a government anti-drug drive, the second official matter he has handled this week after a break of more than a month. Asked why Thaksin chaired the meeting, spokesman Surapong said, "If there are any tasks that he finds important, he will take care of those matters."

Surapong noted that Thaksin had declared he would carry out such duties when he handed over the power of acting premier to Deputy Prime Minister Chitchai Wannasathit shortly after the April 2 election. Thaksin had said then that he was taking "a rest" in the interests of political reconciliation.

Some of the leader's opponents were angered by the development. "If Thaksin returns to work as prime minister, political tension will come back again," said Suriyasai Katasila, a spokesman for the opposition People's Alliance for Democracy, which held mass protests earlier this year to pressure Thaksin to resign.

Critics accused Thaksin of corruption and abuse of power. Last month, the king urged the country's top courts to end the stalemate. The courts then invalidated an April 2 general election, won by Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party, by declaring it undemocratic and unconstitutional.

Thaksin called the snap poll in an attempt to end pressure from the near-daily protests demanding he resign. The courts, as well as the main opposition parties, have asked the Election Commission to resign before new polls are held. The courts claim the commissioners unfairly favor Thaksin's government. So far, three commissioners remain in their jobs.

Thailand 's military leaders, who usually keep a public distance from political affairs, have also spoken out in recent days. "If we love the king we must make him happy. We must help each other to make this country peaceful. We must do as the king advises," Supreme Commander Gen. Ruangroj Mahasaranond said Friday.

"My opinion is that the Election Commission should follow the guidelines given by three courts," he said. The Supreme, Administrative and Constitutional courts have repeatedly urged the commissioners to step down for mishandling the election.

The country's army and navy chiefs on Thursday also urged that the king's wishes be observed. The People's Alliance for Democracy announced Wednesday it would hold a rally next week to support the courts and their call for the commissioners to resign. However, the alliance said Friday it would heed the courts' plea to cancel the action. Supreme Court spokesman Jaran Pakdithanakul had called the planned rally "inappropriate," since it could be seen as involving the courts in politics, reports the AP.