03/22/2006, 00.00
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Religious leaders urge calm amid storm of protests

by Weena Kowitwanij

Catholics, Buddhists and Muslims "should not use politics to resolve personal arguments". Rather "they should do their utmost for their faith, the nation and the king". The statements come as the country's political crisis worsens.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Leaders of Thailand's three main religions – Catholicism, Buddhism and Islam – came together yesterday, 21 March, in Bangkok, to "decide about a common stand during this time of political crisis gripping the nation", and to "give their followers suggestions in line with religious beliefs".

Cardinal Michai Kitbunchu, who heads the Archdiocese of Bangkok and is President of Catholic Bishops' conference of Thailand, reminded Catholics that "everyone has the duty to do their best for their country, their religion and their King."

He continued: "We are worried and unhappy about the present situation. As the leader of the Catholic Church in Thailand, I would like to remind all Catholics to seek authentic understanding of 'love' mentioned in the letter of St Paul to the Corinthians: 'Love is always patient and kind; love is never jealous; love is not boastful or conceited, it is never rude and never seeks its own advantage, Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but finds its joy in the truth.'

"Forgiveness and endurance are the fundamental teachings that will foster peace and happiness of our society. We must remain calm, even amid the storm."

Phra Rajjavijitrapatipan, Assistant Abbot of Sutat-thepwararam Temple, focused on how one should live in times of crisis. "Do not be scared, work hard, and observe religious precepts. We must also see the King as a leader and try not to discuss about politics, to avoid personal arguments."

Rajjavijitrapatipan added that "Buddhist monks are not allowed to interfere in politics", thus undermining the legitimacy of the political protest spearheaded in the capital by a group of monks called the Dharma Army.

Thai Catholics number around 300,000. Out of a population of 64 million, 94% are Buddhists, and Muslims, most of who live in the south, account for 4%.

In the meantime, the crisis facing the nation is getting worse. The People's Alliance for Democracy, the main opposition party, has been on the streets of the capital for a week now; they are urging businessmen to join in their call for the resignation of the Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra. Protesters have even rallied under the windows of the Singapore Embassy, where they have called for the immediate cancellation of a contract linking the premier's family to Temasex, a communications multi-national company on the island. Otherwise, protesters say, they will boycott all products from Singapore. The multi-million dollar deal sparked the protests: the opposition claims the premier clinched it by using his political weight and public resources.

For his part, the prime minister can still count on the unconditional backing of people from rural areas: a group of farmers from the north came together in Jatuchak market of Chiengrai and called for the renewal of Shinawatra's mandate. One man cut his finger and wrote with his blood: "If the premier steps down, I will kill myself".

The premier did consider resigning "for the good of the nation", but now he has changed his mind. He said: "I will not resign, because I have always played according to the rules. Let the election result decide the future of Thailand."

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See also
Anti-government protests stop "out of respect for the crown"
Premier threatens to impose state of emergency
Bangkok, premier Samak declares a state of emergency
Thailand’s Constitutional Court keeps Prayut in power
Islamic guerrillas and Thai army clash


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