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February 6, 2009

Thai PM in Japan:
‘Country is back on track’

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said the nation was "back on track" as he tried Friday to reassure Japan, the kingdom's largest investor, after months of political unrest, reported AFP.

The 44-year-old premier, who has been in office for less than two months, admitted on a visit to Japan that last year had been "especially difficult" for Thailand due to severe "disunity in society."

"Amidst these external and domestic problems I stand before you to reassure you that at this time Thailand is back on track," he told a Tokyo gathering of business leaders.

Protesters blockaded Bangkok's airports for more than a week late last year, stranding tourists -- including many Japanese -- to force out the government then linked to influential former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

The central bank estimates the blockade cost the kingdom more than eight billion dollars.

"The situation is back to a state of normalcy. Peace has been restored, and I strongly hope that by speaking before you today your trust and confidence in Thailand will be fully restored," Abhisit said.

However, his government has also faced street protests -- this time from supporters of Thaksin, a populist tycoon popular in the Thai countryside.

Abhisit, an Oxford-educated economist, arrived late Thursday on a three-day visit to Japan. He was due to meet Prime Minister Taro Aso later Friday.

Japan is Thailand's largest trading partner and has close diplomatic ties including warm relations between their royal families. The two countries were allies during World War II.

Thailand and Japan signed a free-trade deal in 2007 aimed at breaking down trade barriers and boosting trade and investment.

Under that free trade agreement, about 97 percent of Japanese exports to Thailand and 92 percent of Thai exports to Japan will be tariff-free within 10 years.

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