Thai PM vows to prosecute airport protest leaders
Abhisit said he had ordered police to arrest those lawbreaking protesters, though they were Democrat members.
New Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva vowed on Thursday to take legal action against leaders of protesters whose week-long occupation of two Bangkok airports has brought billions of dollars of losses to the economy.
Abhisit, an Oxford-educated economist whose critics say his ruling Democrat Party has assumed power with help from the army and street protesters, said he had ordered police to arrest those lawbreaking protesters, though they were Democrat members.
"They have to proceed according to the law and there will be no interference," British-born Abhisit, 44, said in an interview.
"I made it very clear even before that any MPs who joined the protest would do so in their own capacity. They would not be allowed to use their MP immunity privileges," he told Reuters.
Several Democrats were involved in the six-month-long street protest against former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and two previous governments they called Thaksin's proxies -- one of them was a top campaign leader.
Abhisit said the Thai people regretted the recent blockade of Bangkok's main airports, which left 300,000 travellers stranded and badly damaged a key sector of an economy already reeling from slowing exports due to the global downturn.
Some officials and analysts have said the travel chaos put a million jobs at risk, at a time when the impact of the global slowdown is forcing layoffs in export industries.
Abhisit said the strict law enforcement regardless of political affiliation was part of his "grand plan of reconciliation" to heal the deep political rifts between supporters of Thaksin and his opponents.
"I think the country has been divided for too long. Unless we address this basic problem, all the other problems cannot be solved," said Abhisit, accused by Thaksin supporters of favouring the anti-Thaksin protesters and not representing the poor.
"Everyone who has cases pending against them, whatever their political will, they will be treated equally and in a straightforward manner."
Abhisit said he would set up an independent commission for the supporters and rivals of Thaksin and other "stakeholders" to to discuss political reform, which could lead to amending the 2007 army-designed constitution.
A group of anti-Thaksin royalist businessmen and activists started their street anti-government campaign in 2005, which led to a 2006 bloodless coup against Thaksin, who won two landslide election victories.
Admitting he is going to face opposition from voters in the countryside where Thaksin's populist policies of cheap healthcare and loans remain visible, he said he would try to prove he is everybody's prime minister.
"Now the majority of Thai people are anxious for the country to move on. I think I am given the opportunity to work for this country to work for all the people," he said.
Abhisit said the government would expand its planned stimulus package to 300 billion baht ($8.6 billion) as it aims to boost its economy teetering on the brink of recession.
The spending will come from additional budget increases, loans from state banks to shore up commodities prices and re-allocation of unspent funds from local governments.
Abhisit said he was confident he could deliver a maiden speech to parliament on Monday, a constitutional requirement before a government can officially start, despite threats by Thaksin supporters to prevent lawmakers from getting in.
He also shruged off media criticism that his government would last only three months.
"My concern is not how we spend our time. So every day counts. Every day in office we have to work hard."
Reuters Last Mod: 25 Aralık 2008, 15:05