Thai PM survives no-confidence vote after turmoil

Thailand`s PM survived a no-confidence vote that was called after anti-government protests crippled the capital and 89 people were killed in street battles.

Bangkok: Thailand`s PM survived a no-confidence vote Wednesday that was called after anti-government protests crippled the capital and 89 people were killed in street battles.

Opposition lawmakers accused Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of brutally suppressing the protests. Abhisit defended himself during debate in Parliament on Tuesday, promising an independent investigation into whether the army used undue force to clear demonstrators from Bangkok`s streets.

The lower house of Parliament voted 246-186 to reject the no-confidence motion against Abhisit, who needed at least 238 votes to survive the motion.

Street clashes, grenade attacks and sniper fire killed 89 people and wounded some 1,800 over 10 weeks of protests in the capital. The political turmoil also cost the economy billions of dollars.

The thousands of Red Shirt protesters had been calling for Abhisit to dissolve Parliament immediately and call new elections, saying his government came to power illegitimately and represented a Bangkok elite indifferent to the plight of the rural and urban poor.

The prime minister has yet to set a date for elections, saying stability has to be restored before they can be held.

The state of emergency imposed during the crisis will remain in place for the time being, the special security body that was formed during the protest said Wednesday. The emergency decree suspends some civil liberties, allows censorship and makes it easier to use the military to keep the peace.

Abhisit told reporters the decree is still needed because an underground of Red Shirt supporters remains active. In what was thought to be a political action, a huge firecracker was set off in the northern city of Chiang Mai on Sunday on a street popular with tourists. No one was injured.

The Department of Special Investigation, Thailand`s FBI, is seeking court warrants to arrest Red Shirt organizers and guards in addition to the top leaders already detained.

During two days of acrimonious parliamentary debate, the opposition Puea Thai Party charged the army`s use of live ammunition and armored personnel carriers to break up the protests was excessive and caused civilian casualties.

As the military moved in to clear the protest area on May 19, rioters set fires at the country`s biggest shopping mall, the stock exchange and more than two dozen other places.

No side could claim victory when faced with such losses, Abhisit said Tuesday.

"In the end, for reconciliation`s sake, Parliament has to investigate the matter further," he said. His government has accused a small minority of the protesters of being responsible for the violence and labeled them terrorists.

Some analysts said they were skeptical that the country`s deepening rifts could be healed in the political arena.

Fears remain that the political crisis in Southeast Asia`s second-largest economy will worsen despite the latest unrest being put down.

"For the past 50 years, the Parliament has been inept at solving political conflicts. There`s no general acceptance from the ruling class of the parliamentary process," political historian Charnvit Kasetsiri said.

He said anti-government movements would now "go underground and go cyberspace," dismissing that new elections would pacify the Red Shirts.

"Those who believe in the government would continue to believe. And those who do not trust the government would continue their resistance: This is clear. The middle ground is shrinking," he said.

The Red Shirts consist mainly of rural supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and pro-democracy activists who opposed the military coup that ousted him in 2006 on corruption allegations. They believe Abhisit`s government is illegitimate because it came to power as a result of military pressure and back-room deals after court rulings ousted two elected pro-Thaksin governments.

Speaking after the first day of the debate, Jatuporn Prompan, a Red Shirt leader and lawmaker for the opposition Puea Thai Party, accused the government of framing members of his movement.

"If the government said that (Red Shirts) are behind the arson attacks, then why hasn`t it arrested and charged anyone yet?" asked Jatuporn.

Bureau Report