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Ousted Thai PM urges protesters to reconcile

BANGKOK - Ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra joined his political rivals in calling Thursday for reconciliation after the mob violence that bloodied Bangkok's streets, but some of his supporters refused to give up their struggle to topple Thailand's government.

BANGKOK - Ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra joined his political rivals in calling Thursday for reconciliation after the mob violence that bloodied Bangkok's streets, but some of his supporters refused to give up their struggle to topple Thailand's government.

Thaksin decried the violence that swept through the Thai capital earlier this week, when his followers and their allies clashed with soldiers, police and some city residents, leaving at least two people dead and more than 130 hurt.

Thaksin spoke to The Associated Press in Dubai, where he is in self-imposed exile, just a few hours after Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva also called on Thais to peacefully resolve their differences.

"War will never end by war, it has to end by negotiation," said Thaksin, who earlier had called on his supporters to stage a "revolution" for democracy.

"If the government wants to reconcile, I will encourage the 'red shirts' to participate," Thaksin said, referring to the garb his supporters wear to distinguish themselves from his critics, who wear yellow.

He said he wanted 81-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej to help mend the country's political fractures. "I humbly urge his majesty to intervene ... that's the only solution," Thaksin said during a 20-minute interview.

The protests were the latest eruption in a long-simmering conflict set off by a 2006 coup that removed Thaksin from power. His supporters largely come from rural areas, while their "yellow shirt" foes are a mix of the middle-class and ruling elite royalists, academics and retired military.

The urban forces contend the rural poor are not educated enough to vote responsibly.

Thaksin's supporters accuse Abhisit's four-month-old government of taking power through parliamentary trickery and want new elections. They accuse the country's elite of undermining democracy by interfering in politics, and some were in no mood to give up their demands.

"Thaksin is just a symbol ... I admire him but if he comes back and does bad things, we will get rid of him too," said Surasak Chaiyanond, 36, one of 200 people who went to the Bangkok Criminal Court to lend moral support to red shirt leaders under arrest.

"It's not about him. It's about the people. I want to decide how this country is run," Surasak said.

Thaksin was ousted by the military after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. He had been prime minister since 2001, with his party winning two landslide victories. His support comes mainly from the country's poor majority, who laud his social welfare programs, including village development funds and virtually cost-free universal heath care.

Holding Thaksin responsible for the recent violence, the government increased the pressure on him Wednesday by announcing it revoked his passport.

Thaksin confirmed reports that he now has a Nicaraguan diplomatic passport but said he had not used it yet. He said he was given "honorary citizenship by Nicaragua" and added he will keep travelling from one place to another. Abroad at the time of the coup, he returned briefly to Thailand last year while his allies controlled the previous government but fled ahead of a corruption conviction.

Abhisit, speaking at a news conference, said his government was concerned about Thaksin's activities on foreign soil. Thaksin delivers speeches to his followers by video links.

Abhisit said he had not yet decided when to revoke the emergency decree imposed in response to the violence, but also spoke of reconciliation.

"What activities incite people to break the law must be stopped," Abhisit said. "If we can stop these, everything will return to normal. The process of reconciliation will follow quickly."

He said he will ask for a joint session of Parliament next week "so the government can listen to the opinions of members of both houses about the situation."

Though both leaders talked reconciliation, the process of bridging the divide is unlikely to be an easy one.

"We are treated like second-class citizens," said Thaksin supporter Rattana Sintawong. "It doesn't matter what Abhisit says, we will come back because his actions don't match his words."

 
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