Thai king calls for unity after political turmoil

It was the first public appearance by the king, since he cancelled his annual birthday speech more than two weeks ago because of a throat infection.

Thai king calls for unity after political turmoil
Thailand's influential King Bhumibol Adulyadej urged the new government on Monday to restore stability after months of political turmoil and damage to an economy on the brink of recession.

"If you help to restore peace and order, the country will do well because it is what everyone wishes," King Bhumibol said at a swearing-in ceremony for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's new cabinet.

It was the first public appearance by the frail, 81-year-old monarch since he cancelled his annual birthday speech more than two weeks ago because of a throat infection.

Seen as semi-divine by many Thais, the king has limited constitutional powers but wields enormous personal influence in the country of 65 million people.

During the latest escalation in Thailand's three-year-old political crisis, the monarch was thrust into the centre of the fray by anti-government protesters who invoked his name in their fight with former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which occupied Government House for three months and Bangkok's main airports for over a week, ended its street campaign after a court sacked the pro-Thaksin government for electoral fraud.

Oxford-educated Abhisit, whose Democrat Party formed a seven-party coalition with a slim majority in parliament last week, has made reviving the economy and national unity his top priorities.

"The country has faced quite severe hardship and nobody can get everything done alone, not the prime minister or the cabinet. It requires all of us to help," Abhisit, 44, said after the 36-member cabinet was sworn in.

His choice of former investment banker Korn Chatikavanij as finance minister has won praise in financial circles. But he bowed to the demands of his coalition partners by filling some economic posts with little-known figures from smaller parties.

Abhisit's selection for foreign minister has also raised questions about his commitment to reaching out to supporters of Thaksin, now convicted of corruption and living in exile.

Kasit Piromya, a former ambassador to the United States, gave prominent support to the PAD and defended the airport blockades, saying it was "part of the democratic process."

Abhisit has defended his decisions, saying the cabinet reflected efforts to balance the coalition.

Most analysts do not expect the coalition to hold together through 2009 as economic growth stutters to zero or worse.

Police are also preparing for thousands of supporters of Thaksin to try to prevent Abhisit from making his maiden parliamentary address on Dec. 29, as anti-Thaksin supporters successfully did on Oct. 7 when they clashed with police.

Reuters
Last Mod: 22 Aralık 2008, 18:51
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