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January 15, 2009

Thai PM vows to get politics back to normalcy

New Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has vowed to heal deep political rifts in the kingdom, despite accusations that some of his government appointments have instead fuelled tensions and divisions.

Speaking late Wednesday to the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand, British-born Abhisit said he would "return Thai politics to normalcy" and boost the economy after months of crippling protests, reported AFP.

"We will work for all Thais, wherever people may live, however poor or however rich they are... my government is here to serve all of them equally," he said in his first address to foreign media.

Abhisit's Democrat Party lost elections in December 2007 to the People Power Party (PPP) linked to influential former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup in 2006 and lives in self-imposed exile abroad.

But within months of taking office, the PPP was facing protests by Thaksin's old foes in the royalist People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which escalated and peaked with the PAD occupation of Bangkok's two airports in November.

A court ruling on December 2 dissolving the PPP brought down the government, ended the airport blockades and allowed the Democrats to fill the political void, angering millions of Thaksin supporters and people who voted for the PPP.

Abhisit won a parliamentary vote to become premier on December 15.

Thailand remains deeply divided between Thaksin's loyalists - mostly among the rural poor in the north and northeast - and the wealthy and middle-class Bangkok-based elite, who felt Thaksin usurped their traditional hold on power.

But Abhisit, who studied at Britain's Oxford University, dismissed those differences as "artificial divisions."

"There will be no regional division. I'm engaged with the northeast, I'm in love with the north, I'm at home in the south, I just happen to live and work in Bangkok," said Abhisit, who was elected by parliament on December 15.

Since his election, however, Abhisit has already infuriated Thaksin's supporters by appointing Kasit Piromya as foreign minister. Kasit was a vocal supporter of the PAD, once saying the airport occupations were "a lot of fun."

Another PAD leader was appointed as a government adviser earlier this week.

Abhisit however said any of his government's links with the PAD were in the past, and insisted that every Thai would be treated equally under the law.

"(People) have every reason to suspect that my government will be partisan... I intend to prove them wrong. Everyone will have to go through the due process of law - no one will be exempt," he said.

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