DUBAI/BANGKOK (Reuters) - Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra “humbly” urged the country’s revered king on Thursday to help resolve Thailand’s political rift, after a week in which two people died during anti-government protests.
The self-exiled Thaksin, ousted in a coup in 2006, also told Reuters in an interview in Dubai that he lacked the resources to finance a political comeback, although he would return to Thailand if “the country and the people really need me ... I want to be part of the solution.”
Thailand’s capital is still under a state of emergency but investors showed their relief on Thursday at the peaceful outcome to the latest bout of political violence, with the stock market and the baht remarkably stable after a three-day holiday.
The stock market ended just 0.2 percent lower but foreigners were scared away, selling a net 2.67 billion baht (50.6 million pounds) of shares, the biggest amount this year.
KGI Securities strategist Adisak Kammool said the peaceful end to a three-week occupation of Government House by Thaksin’s supporters was good news.
“But we know all too well that the political uncertainties will stay with us for the long run,” he said.
Faced with overwhelming government force on Tuesday, the red-shirted, pro-Thaksin demonstrators backed down and left Government House, but the underlying divide between a royalist elite and middle class elements of Thai society who oppose Thaksin and his rural backers remains.
“I would humbly urge his majesty (to) come and help heal this rift,” Thaksin told Reuters in Dubai, one of several foreign cities he has been staying in since leaving Thailand last year. He has been found guilty on conflict of interest charges and faces jail if he returns.
Thaksin was stripped of his Thai passport on Wednesday after the government blamed him for causing the violence. The Nicaraguan government said it had given the former telecoms billionaire a diplomatic passport and made him a “special ambassador” to help attract investment.
On Saturday, Thaksin’s “red shirts” invaded the venue of an Asian summit in the resort town of Pattaya and it had to be cancelled. It had already been postponed once last year, and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva had trumpeted the event as proof Thailand was returning to normal.
Then his supporters blockaded a major junction in Bangkok and were dislodged by troops.
Thaksin repeated his claim that the government instigated the violence and that 60 people died in the clash.
The authorities say two people were killed in skirmishes between “red shirts” and Bangkok residents angry at the disruption caused by the protests, but that no one was killed in clashes between troops and protesters. Reporters saw no bodies.
The Student Federation of Thailand says there may have been a cover-up and has helped set up a centre for people to contact if they know of anyone who was involved in the protests and is now missing, the Nation newspaper reported on Thursday.
Three protest leaders appeared in court on Thursday and were denied bail on charges they had violated terms of the state of emergency declared on Sunday and incited others to break the law.
Prime Minister Abhisit returned to his main office at Government House for the first time since the “red-shirt” rally there began on March 26 and said he would call a special session of parliament later this month to debate the events.
“If we want to stop violence in the future, we need to tackle the root cause from now on,” he told a televised news conference.
Foreigners may be deterred from visiting Thailand after the violence in Bangkok and Pattaya.
On the stock market, some tourism-related shares rallied, with Thai Airways International up 2.56 percent, but hotel firm Erawan Group lost 4.7 percent.
Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij said the turmoil would mean bigger tax shortfalls than anticipated as private businesses delayed investment and the tourist sector faced even more losses.
“It’s undeniable that the country has suffered in every dimension from what has happened,” Korn said. “Some people now say the contraction this year may be as much as 5 percent compared with earlier expectations of 2.5-3.0 percent.”
After a 6.1 percent contraction in the economy in the final quarter of 2008, Thailand is almost certainly experiencing its first recession since the Asian economic crisis 11 years ago.
Additional reporting by Bangkok bureau, Rafael Nam in Hong Kong, Vidya Ranganathan in Singapore, Luke Pachymuthu in Dubai and Ivan Castro in Managua; Writing by Alan Raybould; Editing by David Fox