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Thai PM calls for peace after activists clash
Bangkok, Sept 20 (Agencies):
Published on 20 Sep. 2009 11:42 PM IST
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Thailand's Prime Minister called for peace and reconciliation on Sunday, a day after a nationalist group provoked clashes with police and villagers during a march to the Cambodian border. "We can express different opinions but please don't hurt each other. Don't hurt our own people," Abhisit Vejjajiva said. At least 17 people were injured in northeastern Sisaket province when several hundred members of the People's Alliance for Democracy tried to march to a border area claimed by both Thailand and Cambodia to demand that the Thai government seize the territory. They clashed with police and with hundreds of local Thai villagers who oppose them. Both the protesters and villagers were armed with sticks, slingshots and other homemade weapons. The alliance also led demonstrations three years ago that helped spark a military coup that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra for alleged corruption and disrespect for the country's monarch. After Thaksin's allies returned to power, it occupied the prime minister's office for three months last year and seized the capital's two airports for a week. Abhisit, a Thaksin rival who took office after those demonstrations, sought to appease the protesters, saying Sunday that they should "be assured we are not losing out territory" and that the government was continuing to work on the issue. "I'm sorry that police couldn't prevent the violence. They were really outnumbered and couldn't block the protesters," he said, adding that they were under strict instructions not to use force. Police mostly carried only riot shields, making it difficult for them to fend off attacks by the alliance's marchers. Television footage showed alliance members thrusting staffs bearing the Thai flag. The clashes were linked to a decades-old territorial dispute. The World Court in 1962 awarded control over the nearby 11th century Preah Vihear temple to Cambodia, but some surrounding land remains in dispute. The People's Alliance for Democracy seized on the land issue last year to stir up nationalist sentiment and attract support, accusing the government of failing to defend Thailand's sovereignty. Abhisit after the clashes told the army and police to negotiate with the protesters, who agreed to send a small group Sunday to a spot near the temple to make their statement. About 30 of the group's representatives, escorted by soldiers, carried an assortment of royal symbols to the area on Sunday.

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