Thai govt talks reconciliation


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 said 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 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.
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.

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