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Abhisit confident Thailand's rifts can be healed.


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Monday June 22, 2009 Abhisit confident Thailand's rifts can be healed By Neil Chatterjee and Nopporn Wong-Anan  SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The social and political rifts that have plunged Thailand into a three-year crisis can be healed, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Monday, playing down the risks of further tension over a royal succession. [table][tr][td]

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2009-06-22T121820Z_01_NOOTR_RTRMDNP_1_India-405022-1-pic0.jpg[/td][/tr] [tr] [td] Soldiers guard a village after a police raid in which suspected Muslim militants were killed in southern Thailand's Yala province, about 1,084 km (674 miles) south of Bangkok June 18, 2009. (REUTERS/Surapan Boonthanom)[/td][/tr][/table]

Abhisit became Thailand's third prime minister in as many months last December after street protests that climaxed with the seizure of Bangkok's airports, undermining investor confidence in the country and hitting an economy already on the way down.

In broad terms, Thailand's crisis is a battle between the "yellow shirts" -- royalists, the military and urban Thais, who back Abhisit -- and the "red shirts" -- supporters of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra whose power base was mainly drawn from the country's millions of rural poor.

But Abhisit said Thai society was not irreparably riven.

"I don't think the rift is insurmountable," he told Reuters in an interview. "The majority of Thais have a common aspiration. They want the country to be prosperous."

"The biggest challenge is to take the country through this economic crisis and to emerge out of this. If we address those issues I think the majority of Thais would be satisfied."

One unifying figure is King Bhumibol Adulyadej, widely respected by Thais whatever their political affiliation.

However, many in the yellow camp support an interventionist monarchy and the reds resent the power of Thai elites, leading to concern that -- with the 81-year-old king facing regular health scares -- the issue of succession could throw another explosive element into Thailand's volatile mix.

However, Abhisit said there was no uncertainty around the questions of royal succession because there were clear rules set out in the constitution.

"People are going to be anxious about succession issues, but the rules are clear and because the monarchy remains above politics it's nothing that Thailand can't work out," he said.

NO DEAL WITH THAKSIN

Abhisit, an urbane Oxford-educated 44-year-old, came to power through parliamentary defections his opponents charge were engineered by the army.

The military ousted Thaksin in a 2006 bloodless coup and the one-time telecoms tycoon now lives in self-imposed exile.

Thai courts have issued several arrest warrants for Thaksin, and the government revoked his passport in April, accusing him of instigating -- from abroad -- a rash of protests that turned violent and triggered a state of emergency in Bangkok.

"The former prime minister has broken the law, has been convicted by the courts, and so has to accept the consequences of his actions in the way any other Thai would," Abhisit told bankers at a Thomson Reuters event, when asked if he would consider striking a deal with his nemesis.

Abhisit, in Singapore on a one-day state visit, said he had made clear to both Thailand's police -- who were long seen as Thaksin allies -- and its military that they should work for the good of the country, and rise above politics.

"I won't use them as political tools," he said. "In the past they have been dragged into politics and been used as political tools and I've proved that isn't my intention."

Abhisit said the conditions for holding a general election included getting the economy back on track and addressing past political injustices through a parliamentary committee, but he declined to put a date on when there would be a vote.

Asked at the Thomson Reuters event what Thailand would look like if he was still prime minister in five years, Abhisit said: "I wouldn't be so brave as to make predictions about anybody."

However, he said the country would head towards a healthy two-party political system and smaller parties would find it difficult to find a role for themselves.

(For a related story click on [iD:nSP479537] and for a related FACTBOX on [iD:nSP381744])

Copyright © 2008 Reuters

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