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 20 Apr 2009

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Thailand's capital, Bangkok, could remain under emergency rule for another week after an attempted political assassination raised fears of further unrest, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was quoted by Reuters as saying Sunday.

In his weekly televised address, Abhisit also gave more details of a move to amend the controversial 2007 constitution in a bid to resolve Thailand's long-running political crisis.

"I hope when I meet you again next Sunday. We will feel normalcy and peace in society again," he said of the emergency rule imposed during a week of protests in which two people were killed and a major Asian summit cancelled.

The state of emergency covers the sprawling city of 10 million people and surrounding areas, but has had little impact on daily life. There is no curfew and troops are visible in only a few areas away from tourist sites.

Abhisit vowed to find those responsible for Friday's gun attack on Sondhi Limthongkul, a core leader of the "yellow shirt" protest movement against former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted in a 2006 coup.

Sondhi was in stable condition recovering from head wounds after gunmen raked his car with automatic rifle fire on Friday, escalating tensions after a week of street violence involving rival "red shirt" protesters loyal to Thaksin.

"This can lead to wider conflict. Please be confident that the government will solve this case with speed and in a transparent manner," Abhisit said, urging Sondhi's supporters to stay off the streets.

"Please do not raise this issue into a wider violent conflict which will put democracy at risk," he said. Sondhi's People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) played no part in the political violence which forced the government to cancel a major Asian summit last week after Thaksin supporters invaded the conference site in the nearby beach resort of Pattaya.

The extra-parliamentary PAD mounted a street campaign in 2008 that peaked with the occupation of Bangkok's main airports and undermined two pro-Thaksin governments that were thrown out by the courts.

No PAD leader has been arrested or charged in connection with the airport seizures which stranded thousands of foreign tourists and badly damaged the economy.

By comparison, authorities swiftly arrested several red-shirt leaders of the three-week siege of Abhisit's offices at Government House, which ended last week after troops surrounded the group.

Calm has returned to Bangkok's streets for now, but the divide between Thailand's royalist elite and middle class elements of Thai society who oppose Thaksin and his rural backers remains as deep as ever.

A new election would be held under the constitution drafted by a military-backed government in 2007, which critics say is undemocratic and has been a source of political tension.

Abhisit said political parties will have two weeks to suggest amendments, which will be presented to the public for consent. "If we get that, we will go ahead with the amendments".




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