Under-pressure Thai PM reveals reshuffled cabinet

Under-pressure Thai premier Samak Sundaravej revealed his reshuffled cabinet Saturday in the wake of a series of damaging legal defeats and resignations for his battered six-month-old government.

Samak introduced two new faces and welcomed former minister Chiya Sasomsub back into the fold less than a month after being forced out of government in a legal ruling.

"Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and the new cabinet will swear in before the King next Tuesday at the palace in Prachuap Khiri Khan," said a statement from the Secretariat of Prime Minister.

Chiya, kicked out of government on July 9 when the Constitutional Court ruled he had illegally concealed his wife's assets upon taking up his post as health minister, returns as commerce minister.

His return was immediately defended by the government.

"For Minister Chiya, there should be no problem because when he was public health minister, he worked well," government spokesman Wichianchote Sukchotrat told AFP .

"He had to leave his job because of a technical issue, not because of corrupt actions.

"I believe in the ability of the new cabinet. It's mostly satisfactory, everyone is knowledgeable and competent," Wichianchote added.

The reshuffle, which could only be made public after it was endorsed by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, follows the appointment of Tej Bunnag as foreign minister a week ago to replace Noppadon Pattama, who was forced to resign after signing a controversial agreement with Cambodia.

Samak's government has suffered a series of legal defeats in recent weeks, forcing three ministers and another top government official from office and leaving three other ministers' jobs in jeopardy.

Street protests have dogged Samak's administration since May, while an unresolved military standoff with Cambodia over a disputed piece of border land has enraged nationalists in Thailand.

But the changes are unlikely to stave off Samak's critics, Bangkok-based analyst Thitinan Pongsudhirak told AFP.

"The reshuffle's a time-buying exercise. The question is how much time does it buy, and it doesn't buy much," Thitinan said, adding, "They needed to better the credibility and image of government."

He said the most controversial appointments would be Interior Minister Kowit Wattana, a close loyalist of deposed former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, and Chiya Sasomsub, who could find himself facing repeated allegations of impropriety from anti-government protesters.

High inflation and slowing economic growth would continue to hurt Samak's government, Thitinan said, adding Finance Minister Surapong Suebwonglee remaining in his post would not help the government improve its image .

Surapong is being investigated alongside Thaksin, Labour Minister Uraiwan Thienthong and a deputy transport minister, Anurak Jureemas, for allegedly illegally legalising a lottery scheme, denying the government billions of baht in revenue.

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