Thai PM delivers key speech amid large protests

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30-Dec-2008

ANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) — Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva delivered the first policy speech of his term Tuesday despite the blockade of Parliament by thousands of supporters of Thailand’s former premier.

Backers of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra protest at Parliament in Bangkok on Monday.

Backers of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra protest at Parliament in Bangkok on Monday.

The protesters had kept Abhisit and his ministers out of the Parliament building and forced the delay of his speech since Monday.

Abhisit delivered the constitutionally-required speech from the foreign ministry. He focused on improving the nation’s economy, promoting tourism and dealing with Thailand’s troubled southern provinces.

The Thai constitution requires an incoming prime minister to address parliament with a formal policy speech within 15 days of taking office.

Abhisit has until January 7 to fulfill the obligation, although the government can request an extension. The constitution does not specify where the prime minister must deliver the speech.

Abhisit said negotiations with the protesters were ongoing and that he would not authorize violence or a special law to deal with the demonstrations.

“The government will not use force to disperse the demonstrators. We will continue to negotiate. What has happened today will not affect the government’s plans,” he said, according to the Thai News Agency.

Abhisit’s supporters, also numbering in the thousands, gathered outside his Democrat Party headquarters in Bangkok in a show of solidarity.

The Parliament named the 44-year-old, Oxford-educated Abhisit as prime minister on December 17 after some members of the former ruling coalition broke ranks to support him.

But his accession was met with angry protests by supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who threw rocks and chunks of pavement at lawmakers leaving the session.

Thailand’s recent woes date back to a 2006 coup that ousted Thaksin. They culminated with a December 2 court ruling that found the ruling party — former Thaksin backers — guilty of electoral fraud and threw his brother-in-law out of the prime minister’s office.

That ruling came after more than two months of sit-ins by opponents of the ruling People Power Party, which regained office in 2007 elections.

Demonstrators occupied the headquarters of the government and blockaded Bangkok’s major international airport, stranding hundreds of thousands of tourists who provide much of the country’s revenue.

Abhisit has pledged to work toward an economic rescue for Thailand, which teeters on the edge of recession.

Since the 2007 elections ended 16 months of military rule, the country has had three prime ministers

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