Thai PM calls for 'reconciliation' with red shirts

Thailand's government stressed national reconciliation after the worst riots in the country's modern history.

Thai PM calls for 'reconciliation' with red shirts

Thailand's government stressed national reconciliation on Saturday after the worst riots in the country's modern history but it would not commit itself to an early election date demanded by "red shirt" protesters.

Troops continued their search for explosives in the upmarket commercial area the "red shirts" occupied from April 3 until they were dislodged by troops on Wednesday, which sparked violence and arson around the capital.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva highlighted a reconciliation plan in an address to the nation on Friday but made no mention of the November election he had proposed at the start of May as a way of ending the protests peacefully. Elections are not due to be called until the end of 2011.

"He does not rule out an early election," government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn told Reuters on Saturday. "It depends on how much progress we make on the reconciliation road map. The prime minister will decide on the election date later."

Any red shirt leaders not facing charges for offences allegedly committed during the unrest would be welcome to take part in the process, he added.

A 6 sq-km (2.3 sq-mile) area extending out from the ritzy shopping district was still under military control but government spokesman Panitan said soldiers would pull back from Sunday and allow people and cars into the area again.

However, even as he spoke, a grenade was reported to have gone off in the area near the Central World shopping mall badly damaged in Wednesday's rioting.

A deputy governor of Bangkok said he understood no one had been injured. The grenade may have been set off as troops searched the area.

A curfew remains in force overnight on Saturday.

Streets clogged 

Financial markets, which were closed on Thursday and Friday, are likely to open on Monday, although a final decision is yet to be taken on the stock market. A fire broke out in the Stock Exchange building during the protests.

Schools outside the central zone ringed off by soldiers will begin the new term on Monday, a week late. Those inside will have to wait another week.

The elevated Skytrain and underground railway system were still closed on Saturday and traffic was clogged in downtown areas as drivers tried to find a way round the cordoned-off area.

The military crackdown began before dawn on Wednesday, killing at least 15 people and wounding nearly 100. Erawan Emergency Medical Centre said 53 people had died and 415 were wounded in the flare-up of violence from May 14.

During the operation, security forces discovered four cars with explosives near the main protest camp site.

"The most lethal vehicle that we found with a car bomb on the 19th (of May) was the one near the Saensaeb bridge at Chidlom. It had explosives that, if triggered, would have a destruction radius of up to 500 metres," government forensic expert Pornthip Rojanasunant said on Saturday.

A dozen bank branches suffered arson attacks in the rioting. The top banks reopened branches in shopping centres on Saturday after a two-day holiday declared by the central bank for security reasons. Full service resumes on Monday.

The protests have decimated tourism, which accounts for 6 percent of GDP and employs at least 15 percent of the workforce.

The bars in Khao San Road in Bangkok were virtually empty, the throngs of backpackers that normally make the area a bustling tourist centre having deserted the capital after the protests.

The curfew has meant even the city's notorious girly bars are boarded up at night, their neon lights dead.

Occupancy rates at luxury and budget hotels have plunged.

"It is tragic. I really didn't dream that we would ever have a situation like we just experienced. It will take some time before we build back confidence," said Richard Chapman, general manager of the 420-room Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit Hoel, where occupancy has fallen to 30 percent from 80 percent earlier in the year.

The red shirt protesters who rioted in Bangkok come mainly from the rural and urban poor. They want new elections, saying they are disenfranchised by an urban elite that wields all the power and holds a disproportionate share of the country's wealth.

They say Abhisit lacks a popular mandate after coming to power in a controversial parliamentary vote in 2008 with tacit military support.

The government says the protesters were manipulated by the movement's figurehead, ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup in 2006 and now lives in self-imposed exile to escape a prison term for abuse of power.

Reuters

Last Mod: 22 Mayıs 2010, 13:57
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