Thai leader orders probe into Bangkok bloodshed

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The Independent Online

Thailand's leader promised to launch an independent probe into "all events" surrounding the Red Shirt anti-government protests, and yesterday called for reconciliation to heal the deep political divisions that led to widespread violence and 83 deaths in two months.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, addressing the nation in a televised speech, made no mention of new elections, a key demand of the Red Shirts. "Fellow citizens, we all live in the same house. Now our house has been damaged, we have to help each other," Mr Abhisit said.

"We can certainly repair damaged infrastructure and buildings, but the important thing is to heal the emotional wounds and restore unity among the Thai people," the Oxford-educated Mr Abhisit said in an emotional speech that contrasted with his typical academic style.

He said order had been restored in Bangkok, where soldiers overran a Red Shirt encampment on Wednesday after a week of street fighting. The crackdown followed two months of violence in which 83 people died and more than 1,800 were injured. Mr Abhisit acknowledged the "huge challenges" in overcoming the divisions, which he said can be achieved through a five-point reconciliation plan that he had announced earlier.

"That plan is based on the principle of participation, democracy and justice," he said. It includes economic and media reforms and aims to reduce social and economic divisions in Thai society, which the protesters, mostly the rural and urban poor, had railed against.

They say Mr Abhisit came to power illegitimately and is oblivious to their plight. The Red Shirt protests began in March to demand his resignation, the dissolution of Parliament and immediate elections. But yesterday finance minister Korn Chatikavanij said Mr Abhisit's earlier offer to hold 14 November elections was on hold until political passions have subsided and the security situation has stabilised.

Mr Abhisit said the government will allow due process of law and parliamentary democracy to resolve the country's problems. "At the same time, that plan will include an independent investigation of all the events that have taken place during the protests," he said without elaborating.

An army crackdown to remove the Red Shirts from their first encampment on 10 April left 25 people dead. Another 15 were killed on Wednesday when the army overran their second, heavily barricaded encampment.