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Thailand’s prime minister calls for unity

By Eric Talmadge
Associated Press / May 22, 2010

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BANGKOK — Saying order has been restored after a spasm of violence, Thailand’s prime minister made an emotional appeal to the nation yesterday to heal the political wounds that divide it. But one of his senior advisers said the rifts are increasing pressure on him to call elections to prove he has the public mandate.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said the focus has shifted from securing the country to restoring normal routines, particularly in Bangkok, where a two-month confrontation between his government and so-called Red Shirt protesters who want him to resign left at least 84 dead.

“We will continue to move swiftly to restore normalcy and we recognize that as we move ahead there are huge challenges,’’ Abhisit said in a televised address. “Let me reassure you that the government will meet those challenges.’’

Bangkok remains in a state of emergency and under a nighttime curfew through the weekend, its first since a pro-democracy uprising against a military government in 1992. But with the sound of gunfire and explosions silenced, a major bank and department store announced it will open 92 branches today. The curfew in Pattaya, a beach resort, was lifted yesterday.

In Bangkok’s Chinatown, many of the gold and food shops reopened and the streets were teeming with life and traffic. Many other businesses, train services, and schools stayed shuttered as cleanup operations continued to clear the streets where the worst fighting took place.

Troops and police in the capital conducted searches of high-rise buildings and hotels to check for bombs or boobytraps left behind by the demonstrators, whose main encampment in an upscale commercial quarter of Bangkok was cleared in a bloody military operation Wednesday that left 15 dead and more than 100 injured.

Thai media reported that grenades were found in front of an office building, along with a gas container attached to a truck parked near a bridge. If it had detonated, the reports said, it could have caused the bridge to collapse.

Pornthip Rojanasunand, director of Thailand’s Central Institute of Forensic Science, told the Associated Press a body was found in the fire-gutted Central World shopping mall, which was among dozens of buildings torched as the demonstrators retreated after the crackdown, blackening the city skyline.

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