Thailand’s PM calls Red Shirts for reconciliation

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Thailand’s leader promised an independent probe into “all events” surrounding the Red Shirt anti-government protests and called on Friday for reconciliation to heal deep political divisions that led to widespread violence and 83 deaths in two months.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, addressing the nation in a televised speech, made no mention of new elections, a key demand of the Red Shirts. “Fellow citizens, we all live in the same house. Now, our house has been damaged. We have to help each other,” Mr Vejjajiva said. “We can certainly repair damaged infrastructure and buildings, but the important thing is to heal the emotional wounds and restore unity among the Thai people,” the Oxford-educated Mr Vejjajiva said in an emotional speech that contrasted with his typical academic style. He said order had been restored in Bangkok, where soldiers overran a Red Shirt encampment on Wednesday after a week of street fighting. The crackdown climaxed two months of violence in which 83 people died and more than 1,800 were injured.
Mr Vejjajiva acknowledged the “huge challenges” in overcoming the divisions, which he said can be achieved through a five-point reconciliation plan that he had announced earlier. “That plan is based on the principle of participation, democracy and justice,” he said. It includes economic and media reforms and aims to reduce social and economic divisions in Thai society, which the protesters, mostly the rural and urban poor, had railed against. They say Mr Vejjajiva came to power illegitimately and is oblivious to their plight. The Red Shirt street protests began in mid-March to demand his resignation, the dissolution of Parliament and immediate elections. But earlier on Friday, finance minister Korn Chatikavanij said Mr Vejjajiva’s earlier offer to hold November 14 elections is on hold until political passions subside and the security situation stabilises.
“We need to make sure that emotions have cooled to the extent that candidates from all parties can feel safe in campaigning anywhere in the country. Frankly we would not feel safe doing that today,” he told participants at a conference in Tokyo. Mr Vejjajiva said the government will allow due process of law and parliamentary democracy to resolve the country’s problems. “At the same time that plan will include an independent investigation of all the events that have taken place during the protests,” he said without elaborating.
An Army crackdown to remove the Red Shirts from their first encampment on April 10 left 25 people dead. Another 15 were killed on Wednesday when the Army overran their second, heavily barricaded encampment in Rajprasong, one of Bangkok’s most fashionable neighbourhoods. Clashes the week before the crackdown claimed 39 lives, and four people died in other related violence.
Wednesday’s crackdown also triggered widespread arson in central Bangkok on landmark buildings including the stock exchange, banks and major shopping malls.
On Friday, security forces swept 10 high rises including two luxury hotels for explosives and weapons, possibly left behind by fleeing protesters.

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