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Thai PM lifts curfew but says polls this year 'difficult'

Thailand's premier said Saturday it would be hard to hold elections this year as he lifted a curfew imposed across about one third of the country in the wake of deadly anti-government protests.

world Updated: May 30, 2010 01:33 IST

Thailand's premier said Saturday it would be hard to hold elections this year as he lifted a curfew imposed across about one third of the country in the wake of deadly anti-government protests.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said however that there was no plan yet to revoke emergency rule following two months of mass rallies by the "Red Shirts" that left almost 90 people dead in a series of clashes with troops.

The protesters were campaigning for snap elections to oust the government and Abhisit had proposed November polls in a bid to end rally, but he shelved the plan because demonstrators refused to disperse.

"Obviously it's a lot more difficult now to have elections before the end of the year because the November date was set with the (idea of) protesters joining the plan right from the start," Abhisit told a press conference.

But he added that he was not ruling out early elections, hours after he lifted the curfew imposed 10 days earlier across parts of the country, including Bangkok, to quell violent civil unrest.

The British-born, Oxford-educated head of the establishment Democrat Party does not have to go to the polls until the end of next year.

He said Saturday that if all parties involved, including the Reds, joined the peace process and over the next few months the government and parliament functioned smoothly "then that would be the right time" to hold polls.

The Reds' street rallies, which were broken up by the army after two months on May 19, paralysed central Bangkok and sparked several outbreaks of violence that left 88 people dead, mostly civilians, and nearly 1,900 injured.

Protest leaders surrendered after armoured vehicles backed by troops firing live rounds smashed through towering barricades around their sprawling base, angering militant demonstrators who set dozens of buildings ablaze.

Abhisit defended the security operation.

"It has always been our policy to seek a peaceful resolution to the problems, to exercise utmost restraint," he said. "Our decisions at every single point had in mind a way that would restore order with minimum losses."

After the unrest on May 19, which also spread to several cities in the Red Shirts' stronghold in Thailand's impoverished northeast, a curfew was imposed in Bangkok and 23 provinces, out of a total of 76.

While Bangkok has tried to get back to business this week, authorities on Tuesday extended a midnight-to-4am curfew for four more nights as the government sought to restore order.

Anyone violating the curfew had faced up to two years in jail, and the measures had made life hard for people who usually work during the night and put a damper on the capital's normally lively nightlife.

The Red Shirts, many of whose leaders have been arrested and are in police custody, were campaigning for elections because they consider Abhisit's government elitist and undemocratic.

Abhisit blamed fugitive former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra for the breakdown in talks aimed at finding a peaceful resolution to the standoff, saying protest leaders had been prevented from accepting the reconciliation plan and dispersing the rally.

"We have good reason to believe that they weren't allowed to do so by the former prime minister," Abhisit said.

Abhisit's government has accused Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 coup, of inciting unrest and bankrolling the mass rallies by the Red Shirts, many of whom seek the return of the former telecoms tycoon.

A Thai court on Tuesday approved an arrest warrant for Thaksin on terrorism charges.