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NEWS UPDATES 16 January 2010

Thai PM stresses need to resolve issues without royal intervention

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Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has said his politically divided nation would be better off if it stopped relying on the widely revered king to intervene in times of difficulty, reports from Indonesian national news agency Antara and AFP noted.

The country had "struggled at times of crisis to solve problems", in which 82-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s role had been "critical, crucial, vital", Abhisit was quoted as telling the audience at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand.

"Now what I’m saying is that it would be better if we can all resolve these issues without having to rely on His Majesty’s interventions, even though they are always within the framework of the constitution. It will take time," Abhisit said late Thursday.

He noted in particular events of 1992, when the King publicly admonished the then-PM and a protest leader to end bloody clashes in Bangkok. The monarch has also made more recent calls for unity to prevent the country’s collapse.

Matters surrounding King Bhumibol, the world’s longest reigning monarch, are a sensitive topic as the king -- regarded as the only stabilising force in a politically turbulent country -- has been in hospital since September.

Rights activists have criticised a sharp rise in the number of accusations of insulting the monarchy, punishable by up to 15 years in jail under a tough lese majeste law designed to protect the royal family.

But Abhisit said a new advisory board on the law would "create clarity".

"I hope, in perhaps a few months’ time, there will be clear guidance and a lot of cases that are sitting with the police and attorney general will be cleared," he said.

Rights groups were also outraged last year when Thai police charged four people under a computer law with spreading false rumours about the king’s health after concerns over his condition sent Thailand’s stock market plunging.

Thailand has been politically divided since former PM Thaksin Shinawatra -- now living abroad to avoid a jail term for corruption -- was ousted in a 2006 coup. Pro-Thaksin "Red Shirts" are planning new protests in coming weeks.

British-born Abhisit took office in December 2008 after a blockade of Bangkok`s airports by the rival, royalist "Yellow Shirts" helped to topple the previous pro-Thaksin government.

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