IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Thai PM offers olive branch to Red Shirts

Thailand's prime minister Friday promised an independent probe into "all events" surrounding the Red Shirt protests, and called for reconciliation to heal deep political divisions that led to widespread violence and 83 deaths in two months.
Image: Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva
Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva says he is committed to national reconciliation during a news conference at the Thai Army 11th Infantry Regiment in Bangkok Friday.Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

Thailand's prime minister promised on Friday an independent probe into "all events" surrounding the Red Shirt protests and called for reconciliation to heal deep political divisions that led to widespread violence and 83 deaths in two months.

"Fellow citizens, we all live in the same house. Now, our house has been damaged. We have to help each other," Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said in a nationally broadcast address on television.

"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 Abhisit said in an emotional speech that contrasted with his typical academic style.

Abhisit said authorities have restored order in Bangkok, where soldiers overran an encampment of Red Shirt protesters on Wednesday after a week of street fighting.

The crackdown climaxed two months of violence, which left 83 people dead and more than 1,800 injured.

No mention of elections
He acknowledged that "huge challenges" lay ahead 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. The plan includes economic and media reforms and aims to reduce social an economic divisions in Thai society, which the protesters had been railing against.

But he made no mention of new elections, a key demand of the Red Shirts.

Earlier Friday, Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij said Abhisit's earlier offer to hold elections on Nov. 14 was on hold until political passions have subsided and the security situation has stabilized nationwide.

"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.

Abhisit said the government will allow due process of law and parliamentary democracy to resolve the country's problems with the participation of all Thais.

"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.

The Red Shirts streamed into Bangkok in mid-March and set up an encampment in the historic part of the city.

Deadly crackdown
An army crackdown to remove them 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 neighborhoods.

In addition, 39 people were killed in clashes between troops and protesters in the week before the crackdown and four were killed in previous related clashes.

The protesters, many of them poor farmers or members of the urban underclass, say Abhisit came to power illegitimately and is oblivious to their plight. They were demanding his resignation, the dissolution of Parliament and immediate elections.

Wednesday's crackdown triggered widespread arson attacks in central Bangkok on landmark buildings including the stock exchange and major shopping malls.

On Friday, security forces swept 10 high rise buildings including two luxury hotels for explosives and weapons, possibly left behind by fleeing protesters.

The Four Seasons Hotel and the Grand Hyatt Erawan hotel in the upscale Rajprasong area were among the buildings searched by soldiers, said army spokesman Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd.

Soldiers also led a search of the elevated Skytrain tracks as the service remained closed for the seventh day.