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Order restored in Bangkok after clashes leave 53 dead

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva pledged to work for national reconciliation Friday after a week of mayhem devastated parts of Bangkok and left 53 people dead and 401 injured.

world Updated: May 21, 2010 21:37 IST

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva pledged to work for national reconciliation Friday after a week of mayhem devastated parts of Bangkok and left 53 people dead and 401 injured.

"We have restored order in the capital of Bangkok and in the provinces of Thailand," Abhisit said in a televised speech. "There are huge challenges ahead of us, particularly the challenge of overcoming the divisions that have occurred in the country".

Abhisit said his government would go forward with a reconciliation plan based on participation, democracy and justice. But he did not make clear whether this plan would include an early dissolution of parliament and a November election as he had previously proposed.

Rejection of that "road map" plan by anti-government protesters led to the army's attack Wednesday on their protest site in the central Bangkok district of Ratchaprasong.

Fifteen people were killed and another 103 were wounded in the assault and bloody rioting that night, Bangkok's Erawan Emergency Centre said.

Another fatality was reported when police entered a gutted building Friday and found the body of an unidentified man in his 20s.

Thai news reports quoted firefighters as saying nine more bodies were found in the building's basement later in the day, but this could not be confirmed.

"We've sent officers to check on this report," said government spokesman Panithan Wattanayankorn. "We're waiting for a report on that".

The city government said more than 300 incidents of rioters vandalising public property had been reported since Wednesday, with 36 buildings destroyed or damaged by arson attacks.

A curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. (1400 GMT to 2200 GMT) was in force until at least Sunday morning, and the Skytrain and subway transit systems remained out of service. Government offices were closed until Monday.

Southern Bangkok Court Friday denied bail applications for 114 red shirts facing charges relating to terrorism and the emergency rule.

Ten of their leaders have already been charged with violations of emergency regulations.

Military officials said it would be at least another day or two until the Ratchaprasong area, home to some of the city's most luxurious shopping malls and hotels, could be reopened to the public.

Military officials claimed to have found a cache of weapons in and around the protest site, including 45 M-79 grenades, a grenade launcher and an M-16 assault rifle.

A large part of Central World, one of the biggest shopping centres in Asia, collapsed after it was set alight by angry protesters when troops and armoured vehicles moved in Wednesday.

Central World is part of the Central Department Group, deemed a supporter of Thailand's bureaucratic elite, which was vilified by the demonstration's leaders, who painted their movement as a "class war" and "people's revolution".

Protesters also set fire to 10 branches of Bangkok Bank, another business group deemed close to the establishment, and an eleventh branch was set on fire west of Bangkok Thursday night.

The United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), which is supported politically and financially from abroad by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, started demonstrating in Bangkok March 12.

They took over the Ratchaprasong area April 3, vowing to remain until all their demands were met.

When the army moved in on the district Wednesday and the UDD leaders surrendered to police, a group of militants among the protesters went on the rampage, hitting specific targets considered to be allied with their enemies.

First Published: May 21, 2010 21:30 IST