News / USA

Thailand Cancels Curfew



Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva stands by his decision call in troops to end the two month long anti-government protests, that left over 80 people dead and hundreds injured.  Mr. Abhisit made the comments as the government announced a lifting of a night time curfew 10 days after a military crackdown on anti-government protestors.

Mr. Abhisit, speaking to the international media after a briefing with foreign ambassadors, said he had sought to avoid any loss of life but was seeking to apply the law.

"I never wanted to see any loss of life, but my decision has to be based on what I feel is right for the country," said Mr. Abhisit.  "If you've got a group of people who are bent on using violence and death just to achieve a political aim you should really think hard before giving in. All I wanted to do was to make sure that as government in this country can enforce the law."

Since Mid-March more than 80 people have died in clashes with the military and nearly 2,000 injured.  Of those people, 50 died between May 13 when troops moved to restrict protester until the army moved to disperse the rally on May 19.

After the military operation ended, anti-government protesters set fire to over 40 buildings throughout the city, with costs close to $1 billion.

Mr. Abhisit says he is willing to be held to account if investigations found him responsible for decisions that led to the bloodshed.  Journalists at the briefing said they were told by protesters that troops in some locations had ignored government calls for strict rules of engagement in using live fire against protestors.

On Saturday, the government announced a lifting of a night time curfew in Bangkok imposed in the aftermath of the May 19 crackdown.

The red-shirt protesters began their occupation of an upscale shopping and tourist area in central Bangkok since early April calling for early elections and the government to step aside.

But a reconciliation plan in early May by Mr. Abhisit was rejected by key Red Shirt leaders after signs of initially accepting the plan.

Mr. Abhisit said he was still ready to press ahead with reconciliation efforts to overcome deep divisions in the country. He appealed to the red-shirt protesters to end violence as part of the political campaign.

But Mr. Abhisit said former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra had undermined reconciliation efforts by the government.

"The former Prime Minister has been a big obstacle to a lot of compromise and plans to reconciliation," added Mr. Abhisit.  "And I believe he will continue to be an obstacle.  The problem is if the whole country has to give into his demands which are personal interests that would allow him to be above the law is not something that this government can accept."

Mr. Thaksin, ousted in a 2006 coup, has remained in exile since 2008 to avoid a two-year prison sentence for corruption.  A Thai court recently approved a government request for an arrest warrant for Mr. Thaksin on terrorism charges, which he claims are politically motivated.

But Mr. Thaksin still commands a strong following among the Red Shirt movement in Bangkok and in the Northern provinces where he built up a political stronghold after coming to power in 2001.

Pro-Thaksin supporters have threatened to take their campaign "underground" after the crackdown.  Many Red Shirt leaders have been detained or have been submitted to questioning.  Thai intelligence officials say Red Shirt groups may be planning a violent retaliation in the north and north Eastern regions of Thailand.

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