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Thailand's Political Crisis Edges Toward Resolution


Thailand's political crisis has moved toward resolution, after Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva presented a national reconciliation plan welcomed by anti-government opponents. The plan centers on national elections this year, as well as social and economic reforms.

Thailand's seven-week political crisis moved toward resolution as anti-government protest leaders lent conditional support to a national reconciliation plan from Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

The development may avert potential violence in Thailand. The government recently threatened to clear commercial and retail areas in the capital Bangkok where the so-called Red Shirt protesters have been camped out since early April.

The protests, led by the United Democratic Front Against Dictatorship, have been held in support of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The Red Shirts aimed to pressure the government to resign and hold early elections, saying their goal was greater democracy in the country.

Mr. Vejjajiva's reconciliation plan calls for holding parliamentary elections on November 14, about a year ahead of schedule. The prime minister's proposal is offered on the condition that protesters agree to a five-point reconciliation process.

UDD spokesman Sean Boonpracong said his group thinks the plan is a good start. "We welcome this framework," he said. "I think if Mr. Abhisit would like to see no more body counts within a framework of peace step-by-step negotiation, I think it is a good direction. [But] a time frame in terms of an election is a little bit too long from our standpoint."

Support for the protests comes mostly from the rural and urban poor and working class, who support Mr. Thaksin's populist economic polices. The prime minister was ousted in a coup in 2006 and fled to Thailand in 2008, evading a two-year jail term for corruption.

UDD sources told VOA, Mr. Thaksin backs the reconciliation plan.

On Monday, Mr. Abhisit set out the plans' details in a televised address to the nation and later in an address to Parliament.

Mr. Abhisit said the plan included protection of the monarchy, amendments to the constitution, an independent committee to investigate violence that killed 27 people and wounded several hundred other people - both civilian and military.

But growing acts of civil disobedience, including the uncovering of weapons held by Red Shirt supporters, raised fears a government crackdown on the demonstrators could lead to further bloodshed. Mr. Abhisit told journalists the government is determined to clear the protest area in the days ahead.

Chulalongkorn University economist Somphob Manarangsan says the moves to end the protests mark a major step to easing social tensions.

"If the Red Shirts accept, it is good news for Thailand because it can get the breakthrough," he said. "Because we are quite afraid of the catastrophic confrontation that is quite likely to take place if the events are going on."

The plan had received support from academics, rights groups and the business sector with the Thai stock market climbing 30 points amid signs of easing tensions. Armed forces and police have been out in large numbers patrolling Bangkok's center, where the protest rallies have shut down hundreds of retail stores, leaving people out of work and businesses with millions of dollars in losses.

The government has prepared a special budget to assist employees and businesses hardest hit by the closures and protests.

The protests, the most severe in 20 years, revealed deep social divisions that international commentators such as Human Rights Watch said bordered on a potential civil war.

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