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Thailand’s Prime minister admits having underestimated red shirt protesters

Aishwarya Gupta

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Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and army chief Gen Anupong Paojinda appeared together on the weekly programme Having Confidence in Thailand to outline their plans to handle the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship demonstrations. The following is an excerpt from the broadcast:

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How do you assess the situation?

Mr Abhisit: After more than 40 days, pieces of the puzzle are falling into place. In the beginning, the connections between several factions and those in parliament were unclear. Now they are becoming clearer. The opposition party was on the [UDD] stage. That showed they were fighting together. At the same time, there were two incidents on April 10 and three days ago [Thursday] in Silom, which showed that armed men with war weapons were in the rally and wanted violence.

So you link the actions of demonstrators to those of terrorists?

Mr Abhisit: I can say that it is no coincidence that certain names have been mentioned and I cannot say that they are working separately. Names like Seh Daeng [Maj Gen Khattiya Sawasdipol], Gen Chavalit [Yongchaiyudh] and top leaders of the demonstration are connected to key incidents.

In 1992, Mr Abhisit joined Thailand's oldest party, the Democrats and, at the age of 27, entered parliament as one of its youngest ever members. Having tried and failed to become party leader in 2001, he eventually got the post in 2005.

In retrospect, has the government made any decisions that adversely affected the situation?

Mr Abhisit: I must admit that we underestimated the protest movement in some incidents, such as what happened on April 10. I did not expect the loss of lives of security forces and civilians.

Then came what happened in Silom.  We were worried when the two groups [the red shirts and the anti-UDD group] were so close. Measures were prepared. But I did not expect that there would be a group of people capable of firing at the innocent people gathered there. The government had been criticised and people had asked how many more innocent people would die. I have to say that nobody wants to see that happen.

Let me stress that the problem is not only at Ratchaprasong. The ultimate goal is to restore peace in our society. Trying to reclaim that area for the public is one of our targets. But I cannot say when we will do it.

The rally has been going on for some time. Do you know those who have used war weapons? People are feeling threatened and insecure in the country.

Mr Abhisit: Somebody has made himself clear already. He announced since late last year that he was training people in connection with the political gathering. Another group was arrested in connection with the April 10 incident who possessed arms. The investigation is under way to find more people.

What will the army do if those armed men are linked to the army?

Gen Anupong: I have to address two issues: the arms and ammunition, and personnel. We have checked weapon stores with all of our units and they are still in their depots. War weapons do not come from us.

On the issue of personnel, we know that there are a group of armed men, some of whom are in the army, but they do not hold any positions as far as I know. The rest could be former soldiers and civil servants who have been trained to use weapons.

via Abhisit admits Democrats underestimated red shirt protesters.

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