Thai leader goes abroad to salvage country`s image

Abhisit will attend World Economic Forum of East Asian leaders in Vietnam.

Bangkok: Thailand`s Prime Minister on Friday planned his first overseas trip since last month`s bloody protests in Bangkok, hoping to salvage the country`s hammered tourism industry and blighted image.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva`s primary task will be to restore confidence among investors and tourists when he attends the World Economic Forum of East Asian leaders in Vietnam on Sunday, the government spokesman said.

While in Hanoi, Abhisit also will meet with counterparts from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations and top business executives from the region, said spokesman Panithan Wattanayagorn.

"The theme here is recovery," Panithan said, citing the two-month anti-government protests as a key reason for economic decline in once booming Thailand. Nearly 90 people were killed and some 1,800 injured during the protests, which ended in a bloody crackdown on May 19.

The government estimates that the vital tourism industry, which will take months if not years to fully recover, lost up to USD 2.2 billion as a result of the crisis.

In a World Economic Forum report published last month, Thailand fell 10 places to number 60 among the 125 countries indexed. The rankings show Thailand`s competitiveness slipping, something which could effect the flow of foreign investment.

During the trip, Panithan said that the prime minister would also update the international community on the progress of his government`s reconciliation "road map".

"It is necessary for (foreign governments and investors) to understand this healing process," he said.

Abhisit has been grounded in Thailand for more than two months as Red Shirt protesters demanding new elections occupied Bangkok`s prime commercial district, sending tourists packing and shops closing.

Since then, Abhisit has tried to mend Thailand`s image, meeting with diplomats and the foreign media to brief them on the political developments.

Although the situation in Bangkok has calmed down in recent days, the capital and 23 other provinces are still under emergency decrees and many analysts say the deep rifts in Thai society will not be easy to fix.

Bureau Report

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