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PM flayed for Soros 'assignation'


The spectre of George Soros flitted across the nationally broadcast no-confidence debate yesterday as opposition leader Chavalit Yongchaiyudh reminded Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai about his too-close-for-comfort contact with the man who broke the back of the Bank of Thailand.

Chavalit sought to paint Chuan as the man who easily forgot the pain of the past by burying the hatchet with Soros, who had led a pack of currency speculators in a series of assaults on the baht since 1995 until he succeeded in forcing the central bank to float the baht in July last year. In New York last week at a function held in his honour by the Foreign Relations Council in cooperation with the Asia Society, Chuan shared the same podium with the US financier, who introduced him with kind words to more than 200 top US business leaders and financial executives.

The Chuan-Soros picture, flashed across the wires to Thailand, gave the impression that the Thai leader was kow-towing to Soros. Chirayudh Vasuratna, vice chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, did not conceal his discontent, saying to reporters that he did not like what he saw because Chuan was giving Soros a chance to purify his image.

Soros certainly knows how to play the PR game, as the following day he sent out a message saying he and an American consortium were ready to pump US$650 million into Nakornthai Strip Mill, a debt-ridden steel company controlled by Sawat Horungrueng.

The opposition leader's misgivings about Soros were aimed clearly at Chuan during his opening speech.

''As for the problem of Mr Soros, the hero of Chuan, your memory might not be so good. Mr Soros attacked the baht between January and March 1995 during your administration. He repeated the attack during the tenure of Prime Minister Banharn [Silapa-archa] in August and November [1996]. During my time, it happened in December [1996] and February and May [1997]. He's just a very nice guy,'' Chavalit quipped.

''The reason he attacked the baht was because he saw a soft spot. So you cannot say that he only launched a currency attack during my administration. If we have to get to the bottom of the story, then I can say that during my administration, the problem was minimal. Next time, I would like to address Mr President [of the House] personally that it did not happen during my administration, nor was it during the Banharn administration but it happened during the Chuan I administration.''

Later, Chuan stood up to answer the charges that he insulted the nation by giving Soros the attention he did not deserve. The prime minister played down the incident by saying that he was in New York as the guest of the Foreign Relations Council. He had never met Soros before. As a guest, he said, he could not choose whom he would like to see or meet. In this case, Soros happened to be one of the hosts.

''I did not praise him or express any satisfaction. By social etiquette, could I really show a stern face while he was speaking?'' Chuan protested.

Chuan then cleared up the matter by saying that when it was his turn to play host in Washington DC, he was careful about the guests he invited.

Underlying his message was that he was there in New York to represent Thailand as a whole and not to appease Soros individually, since the US has now become Thailand's largest trading partner, overtaking Asean.

He explained that it was his responsibility to establish better relations with the White House, Congress and the US private sector.




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