Thai PM Abhisit says country under control after unrest


Thai PM Abhisit Vejjajiva says order has been restored to the capital, Bangkok, and throughout the country.

Mr Abhisit said the government would "move swiftly to restore normalcy" following a week of violence which left more than 50 people dead.

In a televised address he said reconciliation efforts would continue to address political divisions.

Anti-government protesters returning to Chiang Mai in the north received cheers and applause from supporters.

Many of the "red-shirt" protesters - named for the colour they adopted - said they were determined to keep up the drive to force Mr Abhisit to step down and call new elections.

Many of the protesters in Bangkok came from the north and north-east of Thailand, where support for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a 2006 military coup, is strong.

Fighting broke out last week in Bangkok as the army moved to end the anti-government protest that had paralysed parts of central Bangkok for two months.

Eight of the red-shirt leaders are now in police custody.

In his address, his first since the violence, Mr Abhisit said: "Fellow citizens, we all live in the same house. Now, our house has been damaged. We have to help each other.

"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."

He said the government would "allow the due process of law to operate" and use "parliamentary democracy to resolve the problems with the participation of all groups of people".

Mr Abhisit was speaking from the military base north of the capital where the government has been working during the protests.

He said he recognised there were "huge challenges" now facing his government, "particularly the challenge of overcoming the divisions that have occurred in this country".

An independent investigation would take place into "all the events that have taken place during the protest".

"You can be assured that this government has every intention of moving the country forward - restore order, make sure that our recovery is well on track - and that we will do so in a transparent manner," he said.

The red-shirts were demanding the resignation of Mr Abhisit, saying his government came to power illegitimately.

Mr Abhisit had previously offered to hold elections in November but withdrew the offer when the red-shirts refused to end their protest.

Speaking in Tokyo, Thailand's Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij said no elections could take place while tensions were so high.

"We need to make sure that emotions have cooled to the extent that candidates from all parties can feel safe in campaigning anywhere in the country," he told reporters.

"Frankly we would not feel safe doing that today."

Arson attacks

A clean-up operation is now underway in Bangkok to clear the piles of debris left behind at the protest site and throughout the city.

Troops are still on the streets of the city, security forces have been searching the area for caches of weapons and the main protest area remains off limits to most people.

The latest violence broke out on Wednesday, as the army stormed the barricaded encampment in the centre of Bangkok where the protesters, known as red-shirts, had been protesting since March.

Four key red-shirt leaders had surrendered saying they wanted to avoid further losses of life.

Many other protesters left the site but several thousand spread out through the city, some clashing with the military or burning buildings.

At least 15 people died in the subsequent street fighting.

Buildings including banks, a television station, the stock exchange and the vast Central World shopping centre were set on fire.

Officials said one body was found in the smouldering ruins of Central World on Friday, contradicting earlier reports that nine bodies had been found.

Officials have said more could have been done to prevent the arson attacks.

Secretary-general Korbsak Sabhavasu said the scale of the violence and arson had far exceeded the government's expectations, the Bangkok Post reported.

Smaller protests were also reported in northern provinces of the country.

Mr Abhisit said the violence was "one of the worst episodes Thailand has ever faced".

Eight of the protest leaders are now in police custody. On Thursday one of them, Veera Musikapong, called on all sides to "calm down and talk with each other in a peaceful manner".

Most of the protesters have now been bussed home but there are concerns some hard-core elements could still in the capital.

A night-time curfew remains in place in Bangkok and 23 provinces in a bid to prevent a resurgence of unrest.