June 10, 2010 / 12:25 PM / in 9 years

Thai PM makes reconciliation bid

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand’s prime minister appealed to the country on Thursday to join a reconciliation effort aimed at mending political divisions and paving the way for elections after bloody anti-government protests.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva prays during a religious ceremony in front of the Government house in Bangkok June 10, 2010. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy saw its latest bout of political convulsion from March to May when protesters occupied two parts of Bangkok including an affluent shopping district, demanding the government call snap polls.

The rallies spiralled into clashes between soldiers and shadowy gunmen when troops moved in to dislodge the protesters, who broadly support former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

In all, 89 people were killed and more than 1,800 wounded.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva first floated the reconciliation plan in early May at the height of the crisis but most protest leaders rejected it as inadequate.

He stressed the importance of pushing forward the plan in a

televised address on Thursday.

“Hatred, vengeance and anger cannot build a future for Thailand and our posterity, it is time for us to reconcile to reform Thailand,” Abhisit said.

But few expect a quick end to an entrenched conflict that some analysts see as pitting an old military- and royalist-linked establishment against a new, economically powerful class represented by former telcoms tycoon Thaksin.

The opposition has dismissed Abhisit’s plan as little more than a bid to win popularity by his ruling Democrat party, saying reconciliation without Thaksin would not bring lasting peace.

“What is needed is for all key players from across the political spectrum to talk,” said Noppadon Pattama, Thaksin’s legal adviser and an opposition member of parliament.

ECONOMIC MOMENTUM

The five-point plan includes a “national reform” agenda to address social and economic disparity, a media reform plan, assessments of ways to amend a military-backed constitution, the establishment of a fact-finding commission into the violence, and protection of the most revered institution, the monarchy.

Abhisit said details of the plan would be completed by the end of the year after a public hearing process.

In May, Abhisit proposed November polls but he has backed off, saying a peaceful vote was not possible in such a tense climate.

He said last week an election early next year was possible if reconciliation went well. His term ends in 2012. He did not mention an election in his address to the nation.

The violence has dented economic growth, with tourism numbers in particular falling sharply.

But consumer confidence was up in May after three months of falls, according to a survey, lifted by easing political tension and strong growth in the first quarter when the economy expanded 3.8 percent from the previous three months.

Interest rates are likely to go up this year to rein in inflation as the economy has maintained momentum despite the political unrest, central bank chief Tarisa Watanagase told reporters.

The government has accused Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup and later convicted of graft, of “acts of terrorism” for funding the protests and inciting violence.

Thaksin, who has been in self-exile, denies the charges.

The last Thaksin-allied government was ousted in late 2008 by a court ruling, ending months of anti-Thaksin protests.

A leader of last month’s protests and opposition parliamentarian Jatuporn Prompan said reconciliation was unlikely without an end to what he called a “political witch hunt.”

At least 417 people have been detained for violation of a state of emergency, including most protest leaders. The government also shut down several anti-government websites and community radios for inciting violence.

Writing by Ambika Ahuja; Editing by Robert Birsel and Sanjeev Miglani

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