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Thai political ills make king sick

One country, two governments: that is the position Thailand appears to find itself in after a night of intense political negotiation aimed at choosing a successor to the Prime Minister, Chavalit Yongchaiyudh.

Thais, anxious and bemused at the political turmoil that has followed the country's worst economic crisis in decades, watched in confusion as national television broadcast simultaneous news conferences, with both government and opposition parties claiming enough seats to form the next administration.

Opposition parties led by the Democrats say they have negotiated a coalition and will form the next Thai government, with a former premier, Chuan Leekpie, as the new prime minister.

At the same time, members of the present governing coalition announced that they have also agreed deals with other parties ensuring that they will be leading the next Thai government, with a second former prime minister, Chatichai Choonhaven, as leader.

Amid the political turmoil, which has reached fever pitch, one person has had enough. Thailand's revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who has been watching the chaos from his palace, has fallen ill over the squabbling. A royal medical panel says the 69-year-old King has been admitted to hospital for a check-up after recording an irregular heart-beat.

There appears little prospect of an early end to the latest political turmoil, although the speaker of the Thai parliament is expected to announce which parties will form the new government on Monday.

In the meantime, the one certainty in Thailand this morning is that the embattled Mr Yongchaiyudh is no longer formally in power. During his 11 months in office, Thailand's once booming economy sagged into depression, the Thai baht losing more than half its value in recent months.