22 May 2010

Thai PM offers to address political divisions

6:17 am on 22 May 2010

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Friday he was committed to national reconciliation but made no offer of fresh elections, after troops quelled a week of violence that has left more than 50 people dead.

The anti-government red shirt protesters who rioted in Bangkok have demanded new elections, saying they are disenfranchised by the urban elite.

In a televised address Mr Abhisit said the government would continue with its five-point reconciliation plan first announced on 3 May, which offers political reforms, social justice and an investigation into political violence.

Before the latest violence, the Prime Minister had offered elections in November, but withdrew the offer when the red shirts refused to disperse.

Troops manned razor-wire roadblocks and searched vehicles in Bangkok on Friday, while department stores smouldered after Wednesday's violence.

Soldiers swept through the shopping area that had been the protesters' camp for six weeks, searching for weapons and explosives in the now-deserted battleground.

In his address on Friday, the first since the violence, Mr Abhisit said the government would allow the due process of law to operate and use parliamentary democracy to resolve the problems.

Mr Abhisit was speaking from the military base north of the capital where the government has been working during the protests.

Many of the protesters in Bangkok came from the north and north-east of Thailand, where support for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a 2006 military coup, is strong. Mr Thaksin is living in self-imposed exile to avoid a jail term for abuse of power.

Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij said he still expected an early poll and that it was highly unlikely the government would stay in office for its full term, which ends in early 2012.