Thai PM vows protest investigation

Thailand's prime minister promises an independent probe into "all events" surrounding the Red Shirt protests that killed 83 and left more than 1,800 wounded.

Abhisit Vejjajiva also calls for reconciliation

Thai police officers gather before storming a Red Shirt radio station in Pathum Thani, a province north of Bangkok. ((Anthony Germain/CBC))

Thailand's prime minister is promising "an independent investigation" into the massive Red Shirt protests that left 83 people dead, more than 1,800 injured, and caused deep political and social divisions.

In a nationally broadcast address on Friday, Abhisit Vejjajiva reassured his people that his government had "restored order in the capital of Bangkok and provinces of Thailand."

He also acknowledged "the emotional wounds" left by the protests, and called on all "to restore unity to the Thai people."

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva speaks during a news conference at the Thai Army 11th Infantry Regiment in Bangkok on Friday. ((Stringer/Reuters))
"We will continue to move swiftly to restore normalcy, and we recognize that as we move ahead, there are huge challenges ahead of us, particularly the challenge of overcoming the divisions that have occurred in this country," Abhisit said in an emotional speech.

"Our house has been damaged. We have to help each other."

In Bangkok, where soldiers overran an encampment of Red Shirt protesters on Wednesday after a week of fighting, soldiers and police patrolled the streets.

Security forces also swept through downtown, clearing remnants of the fighting including grenades and weapons. They searched luxury hotels, highrises and the elevated Skytrain tracks, which remained closed.

Waves of men clad in fluorescent orange work clothes also tore down debris at the numerous barricades still scattered around the city.

But order was less obvious on the outskirts of the city, the CBC's Anthony Germain reported.

In Pathum Thani, a province directly north of Bangkok, approximately 100 riot police stormed through the doors of a Red Shirt radio station on Friday morning with their guns drawn and tried to seize control of it. The Red Shirts who were inside were able to escape before the raid, said Germain, who witnessed the event.

The station was one of 30 similar stations that police want to keep closed, Pathum Thani police Chief Methi Kusolsrang told Germain.

Plan, no elections

Abhisit introduced a five-point plan "based on the principles of participation, democracy and justice" to deal with the enduring political tensions.

"We will allow the due process of law to operate and use our parliamentary democracy to resolve the problems with the participation of all groups of people," he said.

Thai soldiers search a camp area which was occupied by anti-government Red Shirt protesters in central Bangkok on Friday. ((Sukree Sukplang/Reuters))
The plan also includes economic and media reforms and aims to reduce social and economic divisions in Thai society, which the protesters had been railing against.

He made no mention of new elections, a key demand of the Red Shirts.

Earlier Friday, Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij said Abhisit's earlier offer to hold elections on Nov. 14 was on hold until political passions have subsided and the security situation has stabilized nationwide.

"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. Frankly we would not feel safe doing that today," Korn told participants at a conference in Tokyo.

The Red Shirts streamed into Bangkok in mid-March and set up an encampment in the historic part of the city.

An army crackdown to remove them on April 10 left 25 people dead. Another 15 were killed on Wednesday when the army overran their second, heavily barricaded encampment in Rajprasong, one of Bangkok's most fashionable neighbourhoods.

In addition, 39 people were killed in clashes between troops and protesters in the week before the crackdown and four were killed in previous related clashes.

The protesters, many of them poor farmers or members of the urban underclass, say Abhisit came to power illegitimately and is oblivious to their plight. They were demanding his resignation, the dissolution of Parliament and immediate elections.

Red Shirts likely to regroup

On Friday, many Thais watching the cleanup in Bangkok said that while the anti-government movement had taken a blow, the Red Shirts will likely regroup and continue fighting for equality.

A criminal court Friday refused to grant bail to 114 Red Shirt leaders and supporters who have been detained since Wednesday. 

Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, a second-tier Red Shirt leader, distributed a statement by the group Friday calling for Abhisit and his deputy to step down to pave the way for reconciliation. He announced plans for new mass meetings. However, a report on The Nation website said he was arrested later in the day.

Continued security concerns led officials to extend a nighttime curfew in Bangkok and 23 other provinces through Saturday night.

With files from The Associated Press and CBC's Anthony Germain