Abhisit Says Thailand Back to ‘Normal,’ Vows to Repair Division

Smoke billows from a commercial area of Bangkok
Smoke billows from a commercial area of Bangkok where Red Shirt demonstrators had their camp in downtown Bangkok on May 19, 2010. Photographer: Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty Images

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said the government had restored order two days after a military assault to end anti-government protests in Bangkok killed 15 and triggered widespread rioting.

“We will continue to move swiftly to restore normalcy, and we recognize that as we move ahead there are huge challenges ahead of us, particularly the challenge of overcoming the divisions that have occurred in this country,” he said in a televised address. “Let me reassure you that the government will meet those challenges.”

Abhisit promised an independent investigation into violence over the past six weeks, addressing concerns among protest supporters that his administration favors the elite. The May 19 military crackdown that forced rally leaders to surrender was conducted under international law, he said.

“You can be assured that this government has every intention of moving the country forward,” he said, adding the recovering was on track. “We will do so in a transparent manner,” he said.

Troops yesterday moved to assist police enforcing a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew in a third of the country lasting into the weekend. Security forces cleared rioters hidden in high-rise buildings in Bangkok’s Rajaprasong commercial district, army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said today.

Still Checking

“The clearance of the Rajaprasong area by soldiers has been completed,” Sansern said. “The safety at ground level is secured. There are some buildings that need to be checked.” The area will be transferred to civilian control at 6 p.m., he said.

Gunfights erupted throughout the day yesterday after 39 buildings burned in Bangkok and armed groups remained downtown, the army said. Reports of disturbances in northeast Thailand, home to many of the Red Shirt demonstrators, underscore the widening social rifts that may thwart political reconciliation.

About 13,000 protesters rallied in as many as 20 provinces outside Bangkok yesterday, Sansern said. A more than 10-hour fire at the Central World shopping and office complex left the building near collapse. One fire damaged the stock exchange.

Plant Closures

Japan’s two largest automakers, Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co., suspended production in Thailand May 19, citing ongoing violence. Ten Bangkok Bank Pcl branches were damaged, together with two outlets each of Kasikornbank Pcl, Krung Thai Bank Pcl and Siam City Bank Pcl, Thanom said.

The government set up a taskforce made up of soldiers, police and rescue personnel to combat rioting and looting, and to protect communication and transportation systems, spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said at a briefing today. It also formed an agency to help businesses affected by the unrest, he said.

Street battles in the past week between security forces and demonstrators contributed to Thailand’s deadliest political turmoil in almost two decades. Exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, to whom many of the protesters express loyalty, said the government must treat arrested protest leaders fairly.

‘Show Trials’

“There should be no more show trials, and no more political prisoners,” Thaksin said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. “The fact that the government has attempted to use the term ‘terrorism’ against those who disagree with its policies raises significant concerns of political persecution.”

Thaksin, a 60-year-old billionaire, won over the poor in the northeast of the country by giving them cheap health care and loans. The demonstrators, angered by one of Asia’s widest income gaps, say Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, 45, embodies a privileged class of military officers, judges, bureaucrats and royal advisers that sits above the law.

Abhisit’s five-part proposal to end the national divide includes measures to safeguard the monarchy, address economic inequality, ensure an independent media and assess ways to change the constitution and disputed laws.

Thaksin was ousted by the Thai army in 2006, and fled the country in 2008 before a court sentenced him to two years in prison for helping his wife buy land from the government while still in power.

King Bhumibol

Since 1946, when King Bhumibol Adulyadej took the Thai throne as an 18-year-old, Thailand has seen nine coups and more than 20 prime ministers. Only two of 17 constitutions since absolute monarchy ended in 1932 have mandated parliaments that are entirely elected. The king, who is revered across the nation, has been in a hospital since Sept. 19 and hasn’t spoken publicly about the current demonstrations.

Abhisit’s party hasn’t won the most seats in a nationwide vote since 1992. He was picked by legislators in December 2008 after a court dissolved the pro-Thaksin ruling party for election fraud. The decision coincided with the seizure of Bangkok’s airports by protesters wearing yellow shirts who oppose Thaksin.

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