Thai PM urges Thaksin not to incite unrest in the kingdom

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“I have no problem with him (Thaksin) speaking, I would only urge him to put the country’s position above his and that the country’s interests now lie in peace and stability,” Abhisit said in an interview at his office in Bangkok.

Thailand’s new prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Friday urged fugitive former leader Thaksin Shinawatra not to incite unrest in the kingdom ahead of mass protests planned by the opposition.

British-born Abhisit told AFP that he hoped pro-Thaksin rallies due to start on Sunday would not disrupt his plans to unveil his policies to parliament, adding that police had been ordered to avoid violence.

The 44-year-old added that all parties involved in this year’s political unrest, including those behind a costly blockade of Bangkok’s airports, should face justice as part of a wider reconciliation plan.

“I have no problem with him (Thaksin) speaking, I would only urge him to put the country’s position above his and that the country’s interests now lie in peace and stability,” Abhisit said in an interview at his office in Bangkok.

Loyalists say Thaksin, who was toppled in a military coup in 2006, may address supporters by telephone on Sunday and they have vowed further rallies during Abhisit’s policy statement on Monday and Tuesday.

The so-called “red shirts” say they will not back down until Oxford-educated Abhisit dissolves the government. Police have said they will deploy nearly 3,000 officers equipped only with riot shields.

“I hope that we will be able to deliver a policy statement according to our plans on Monday and Tuesday,” he said. “I am confident that we will handle the situation on those two days in ways that will not damage the country’s image.”

Abhisit said he had ordered there should be “no repeat” of the violence at a similar protest on October 7 by the royalist, anti-Thaksin People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which left two dead and 500 wounded.

Twice-elected Thaksin is living in exile to avoid a jail term on corruption charges, but his allies won elections a year ago, sparking protests peaking with the week-long blockade of Bangkok’s airport that ended in early December.

A court on December 2 disbanded the pro-Thaksin ruling People Power Party and barred then-premier Somchai Wongsawat, Thaksin’s brother-in-law, from politics.

Abhisit won a parliamentary vote to become prime minister on December 15 with help from defectors from the previous coalition.

However he dismissed criticisms from Thaksin’s allies that his election was undemocratic, adding that he would only call new elections “when the time is appropriate. We need to move the country forward.”

Abhisit’s new foreign minister, Kasit Piromya, has already come under fire for playing a key role in the PAD’s week-long airport blockade, which cost the country billions of dollars and left 350,000 travellers stranded.

Abhisit said that under his plan for national reconciliation the “key principle” was justice, with a number of “outstanding cases against various groups during the conflict of the last year”.

He did not give details but specified that the yellow-clad PAD movement “must accept the legal consequences of their actions”.

Abhisit also said a pardon for Thaksin was possible in future but that the tycoon must return home to face justice first.

“Nothing is ruled out but you have to accept your punishment and your responsibilities first,” Abhisit said.

The new premier warned meanwhile that tackling Thailand’s current economic woes will be harder than dealing with the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

“Many people would argue that it’s a tougher job to deal with the crisis this time around because you have both the economic and the political dimensions,” he said.

He said he would soon unveil a 300-billion-baht (8.6-billion-dollar) stimulus package for the economy, focusing partly on rural areas where Thaksin has traditionally had strong support.

Abhisit however sought to play down the rifts in Thai society, seen as pitting Thaksin against the Bangkok-based elite of the palace, military and bureaucracy who saw his influence as a drain on their power.

BANGKOK (AFP)

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