Thai pm says difficult to hold polls this year

Bangkok (ANTARA News/Reuters) - Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Saturday that it would be difficult to hold elections this year, which is likely to infuriate anti-government protesters involved in deadly riots last week.

Abhisit had earlier offered to hold elections on Nov. 14, but took the offer off the table when it was rejected by the red-shirted protesters.

"Obviously, it`s a lot more difficult to hold elections by the end of the year," Abhisit said at a news conference, referring to the deepening social divides that led to the worst political violence in Thailand`s modern history.

He said peace had to be fully restored and a reconciliation plan needed to be implemented, but added polls would be held ahead of 2012, when his tenure ends.

"I haven`t ruled out early elections," he said. "It`s going
to take a while longer to establish the right kind of environment but elections will be before the end of my term.

"If we succeed in inviting and embracing all the stakeholders, including red shirts, the opposition, to our reconciliation programme and over the next few months we see government and parliament function smoothly, that would be the right kind of environment." The main demand of the protesters was that Abhisit quit and call new elections. They claim they have been disenfranchised by a Bangkok elite supported by the military.

The red shirts, who comprise mostly rural and urban poor, began street rallies in Bangkok in March, and later took over the heart of the commercial district of the city of 15 million people.

After a series of street battles, troops launched an assault on their fortified encampment last week and dispersed the red shirts, who set fire to almost 40 buildings as they retreated.

At least 88 people were killed and almost 2,000 injured in the clashes since March.

Earlier on Saturday, Abhisit announced that a night curfew in Bangkok and 23 provinces was being lifted because the situation was improving.

However, emergency laws will continue to be in place, he said. The laws give the army broad powers, allow authorities to suspend certain civil liberties, bans public gatherings of more than five people and stops media reporting news that "causes panic". (*)

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