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A statue of Buddha and a torn Thai national flag remain in front of Bangkok's Central World shopping mall, which was gutted by fire after army soldiers penetrated an encampment of anti-government "red shirt" protesters May 19, 2010. (ADREES LATIF/REUTERS)
A statue of Buddha and a torn Thai national flag remain in front of Bangkok's Central World shopping mall, which was gutted by fire after army soldiers penetrated an encampment of anti-government "red shirt" protesters May 19, 2010. (ADREES LATIF/REUTERS)

Globe editorial

Off with their shirts in Thailand Add to ...

Having prevailed over the Red Shirt demonstrators, the government of Thailand led by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva should show some magnanimity and act upon its previous offer, during unsuccessful negotiations with the protesters, to dissolve the Thai parliament and call an election, to be held this year, after the country has calmed down.

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The ending of the demonstrations could hardly have been wholly free of violence, because some militants among the protesters - known ominously as Black Shirts - were trying to exacerbate the conflict. On the other hand, if the government and the army had physically removed the protesters, a few at a time, slowly but steadily, without gunfire, there would probably not have been so many deaths and injuries.

Thaksin Shinawatra, who was the prime minister from 2001 to 2006, is the hero of many of the protesters. During the first few weeks of the demonstrations, he egged them on in video-link speeches made from exile. Recently, he had been lying low, but now he has re-emerged to predict, unhelpfully, that some of the protesters will now resort to guerrilla warfare.

Mr. Thaksin is demagogic and corrupt, but he has had a high degree of popular support for a considerable time. Sooner or later, the Thai elites must accept that his allies may regain power as a result of an election.

Before the Red Shirts, who called themselves the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, there were the Yellow Shirts, who called themselves the People's Alliance for Democracy; in 2008, they seized airports and obstructed highways in protest against Mr. Thaksin's allies. Both sides to this continuing conflict - which has a strong element of class division between the rural poor and the urban well-to-do - need to learn to refrain from interrupting the functioning of Thai society and economic life.

Mr. Thaksin was removed by a military coup in 2006; civilian government was quickly restored, but Mr. Thaksin's colleagues and surrogates, and more broadly his political party, formerly known as Thais Love Thais, cannot be systematically excluded from actual or potential power without putting an end to democracy.

Politicians should of course be subject to prosecution for corruption, but the two sides to this persistent strife clearly have deep-

seated feelings about the governance of Thailand, which have to be respected.

Thais should shed their various coloured shirts and adhere to democracy and the rule of law. The best way to achieve that would be an election.

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