Thai PM urges peace ahead of protests

The new prime minister of Thailand has urged the exiled former leader, Thaksin Shinawatra, not to incite unrest.

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Thailand's new prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, today urged exiled former leader Thaksin Shinawatra not to incite unrest in the kingdom, ahead of mass protests planned by the opposition. Thaksin loyalists plan to protest in Bangkok on Sunday, when they say the ousted PM may address supporters by telephone, and have vowed further rallies when Mr Abhisit delivers his first policy statement over the two following days.

"I have no problem with him (Thaksin) speaking, I would only urge him to put the country's position above his and that the country's interests now lie in peace and stability," Mr Abhisit said in an interview. "I hope that he would also think about the country's interests and preserving stability and order," the Oxford-educated premier said. Mr Abhisit said police could handle the protests but said there would be no repeat of the violence that has marred other protests this year, including one outside parliament on October 7 that left two dead and 500 injured.

"I hope that we will be able to deliver a policy statement according to our plans on Monday and Tuesday. I am confident that we will handle the situation on those two days in ways that will not damage the country's image," he said. "Obviously we will have to see how many people turn out in terms of protesters," he added. "Instructions will be given to the police and the security forces that we don't want a repeat of October 7."

Mr Abhisit did not rule out a possible pardon at some point for Mr Thaksin, who is living in exile to avoid a jail term for corruption, but said he must return to face justice first. "Nothing is ruled out, but you have to accept your punishment and your responsibilities first," Mr Abhisit said in the interview at Government House in Bangkok. "There are a number of possible legal channels but it's premature to discuss this now. We need to have him come through and accept the process."