>Thai Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama resigns


Thailand’s Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama talks to media during a press conference in Bangkok, Thailand, on Thursday, July 10, 2008. Thailand’s foreign minister has resigned in a bid to defuse political tension as a raft of court cases and street protests batter the country’s 5-month-old government.(AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — Thailand’s foreign minister resigned Thursday after being accused of jeopardizing the country’s claims to land near an ancient Cambodian temple, as a raft of court cases and street protests continued to batter the five-month-old government.

“Even though I did not do anything wrong, I would like to show responsibility by resigning,” Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama said.

The resignation takes effect July 14.

The Thai Constitutional Court ruled Tuesday that Noppadon acted unconstitutionally when he endorsed Cambodia’s application to have the Preah Vihear temple registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site without first consulting Parliament on the matter. Critics fear the endorsement undermines Thailand’s claim to land near the temple, which is on the Thai-Cambodian border.

“I would like to insist that the action of the ministry did not compromise Thailand’s sovereignty,” Noppadon said. He also denied anti-government protesters’ claims that he endorsed Cambodia’s UNESCO bid in exchange for business concessions.

Several high-profile court rulings this week have targeted top officials in the government of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej.

The Constitutional Court disqualified Public Health Minister Chaiya Sasomsup from office Wednesday, for violating asset disclosure rules by failing to fully declare his wife’s shareholdings.

In another case, the Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant Wednesday for Wattana Asavahame, chairman of one of the coalition parties, after he failed to appear in court to hear a verdict on corruption charges against him over a water treatment project.

The announcement of the verdict was rescheduled for Aug. 18, the court said. If convicted, Wattana faces up to 10 years in prison.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court banned a former parliamentary speaker from politics for five years for electoral fraud. The verdict could lead to the eventual dissolution of the People’s Power Party if the Constitutional Court decides that Yongyuth Tiyapairat committed the fraud to benefit his party.

Finance Minister Surapong Suebwonglee, deputy leader of Samak’s party, said the prime minister remained confident the coalition would weather the political storm. He also dismissed speculation that the government might dissolve Parliament and call a fresh election more than three years ahead of schedule.

The coalition took power earlier this year after December polls.

Demonstrators have disrupted traffic in pockets of the capital daily since May demanding that Samak and his government resign, calling him a proxy for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled in a 2006 military coup.

Samak denies the accusation, saying the protesters are trying to undermine his democratically elected government.

A number of senior Thaksin loyalists serve in Samak’s administration. Before his appointment as foreign minister, Noppadon was Thaksin’s top lawyer and spokesman while the former prime minister was in exile after his ouster.

Sondhi Limthongkul, a key protest leader, had earlier alleged that Noppadon gave up some territory near the temple in exchange for his “boss” — Thaksin — getting concessions to develop a casino complex on Cambodia’s Koh Kong island.

Noppadon said in his resignation speech that the talks of “conflicts of interest are false.”

Thaksin faces a slew of court cases charging him with corruption and abuse of power.

The Supreme Court heard testimony Tuesday from the first witnesses in the trial of Thaksin and his wife on charges related to her purchase of Bangkok real estate during his time as prime minister. The court is to rule July 31 on separate charges of tax evasion against his wife.

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