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Thailand Lifts State of Emergency, Awaits New PM


The Thai government has lifted a state of emergency that was imposed 12 days ago following street demonstrations and violence. As Ron Corben reports, the governing People's Power Party is preparing to announce a new candidate for prime minister after a parliamentary boycott ended the bid by Samak Sundaravej to return.

Thailand's interim Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, along with the Thai Army and police chiefs, told a news conference that while political tensions remained in the country there is no longer any reason for the state of emergency to remain.

The emergency decree had been imposed since September 2 after violence between pro-government and anti-government demonstrators that left one person dead and several wounded.

Opposition party members had accused elements within the government of inciting violence to allow for the emergency decree to enable the Army to clear anti-government protesters camped at the government administration building since August 26.

Meanwhile, Thai political parties are scrambling to find a new prime minister. Last week, Samak Sundaravej was found guilty by a constitutional court of conflicts of interest and forced to resign as prime minister.

But key factions within the governing People's Power Party had sought to re-nominate Mr. Samak. The bid failed Friday when about 70 members of the party and its coalition partners boycotted the parliament vote over fears of heightened political tensions and possible violence. A new vote is expected Wednesday.

Opposition Democrat Party spokesman Buranaj Samutharak said the government should ensure a leader who will ease the current political tensions.

"Clearly, what Thailand needs now is a leader and a government which can unite the country," Buranaj said. "We need to see action to bring all parties involved to address the current political crisis in a constructive manner."

Deep divisions in recent years have emerged in Thai society. Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, elected to power in 2001, capitalized by gaining support through populist polices such as low-cost health care for the working class and rural poor to win consecutive elections from 2001 until 2005.

But the urban middle class accused Thaksin of being authoritarian, abusing power and corruption. He was ousted in a coup in September 2006.

But Thaksin, a billionaire businessman, remains influential in Thai politics and the Samak government was accused of acting as a puppet for the former prime minster.

The Democrat Party's Baranaj says fresh efforts are needed to reconcile the conflicts in Thai society.

"The reconciliatory process is definitely needed to bridge the gap and divisiveness within Thai society which the Samak government has created over this half year," Baranaj said. "This issue needs to be addressed first."

Thaksin and his family fled to Britain in early August during a key corruption trial accusing the Thai judiciary of bias. He has claimed innocence. A verdict into the case by a special Supreme Court is due Wednesday.



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