Thailand's PM urges reconciliation

BANGKOK — Thailand's fugitive former leader, who called for revolution earlier this week as his supporters' riots paralyzed Bangkok, urged the protests' leaders today to join government reconciliation talks.

The government called for parliament to meet to resolve the political crisis today, just a day after Thai authorities announced they had revoked former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's passport for inciting the protesters with his rhetoric.

The former leader, who has been on the run since fleeing Thailand last year, said that the move would not restrict his movement as he has multiple passports, including a diplomatic one issued by Nicaragua.

"If the government wants to do reconciliation, I will encourage the red shirts (the protesters) to participate," Thaksin said during an interview with The Associated Press in Dubai in the Persian Gulf. "I will encourage them for the sake of the country. We have to put differences aside and talk." Thaksin said that his earlier call for revolution referred to a peaceful one, saying he has urged his followers to remain nonviolent. "With violence you cannot win," he said.

Tens of thousands of his followers recently paralyzed the Thai capital for days with violent demonstrations, demanding new elections. Two were killed in the unrest and 123 injured. They called off protests Tuesday after facing a major military crackdown.

Current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who returned to his government offices for the first time today since demonstrations began three weeks ago, said a special joint session of the parliament would begin the process of political healing next week.

"The true end to the problem will be a collective political solution," Abhisit told a news conference in his first public appearance since his car was attacked by protesters on Sunday.

Though both leaders are talking reconciliation, the process of bridging the divide is unlikely to be an easy one.

The protests were only the latest turn in a long-simmering conflict — triggered by the 2006 coup that drove Thaksin from power — that has divided many Thais into two groups: his supporters, the "red shirts" who largely come from rural areas, and their opponents, the "yellow shirts," a mix of the middle-class and ruling elite royalists, academics and retired military. They say the poor accept bribes for their votes and are not educated enough to vote responsibly.

After the coup, elections brought Thaksin's allies back to power, setting off prolonged demonstrations by the yellow shirts that culminated in the weeklong occupation of Bangkok's airports late last year.

Those protests ended after court rulings removed two pro-Thaksin prime ministers from office, paving the way for Abhisit's rise to power, but setting off the rival — and most recent — demonstrations.

Thaksin urged Thailand's widely respected King Bhumibol Adulyadej to help resolve the conflict in a bid to end the cycle and quell future unrest.

"I humbly urge his majesty to intervene. ... That's the only solution," he said.

The 81-year-old monarch enjoys wide support among Thais regardless of political affiliation.

The former prime minister said he plans to stay on the move and won't be returning anytime soon to Thailand, where he was convicted in absentia on corruption charges. The government is seeking his extradition — a process complicated by Nicaragua's decision to make him a special envoy to bring investment to the Central American country and issue him a diplomatic passport.

"If I were to go back now, I think it would add to more violence ... more chaos," he said.

Bangkok was still under emergency rule on Thursday — for the fifth day — but normalcy had returned.

Police were still searching for dozens of protest leaders, only three of whom were in custody. Bangkok's Criminal Court extended their detention today for another seven days.

Unlike the firm crackdown by the military this week on the red shirts, security forces last year did not act against the yellow shirts. And leaders of the yellow shirts were freed from police custody on bail just hours after turning themselves in on criminal charges in March.

Around 200 protesters gathered peacefully outside the courthouse despite a security ban on gatherings of more than five people.

A pro-Thaksin satellite broadcaster, DTV, was raided in Bangkok for "inciting unrest," police said. Provincial community radio stations in at least three provinces were also ordered to shut down, according to Thai media reports.

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