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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Abhisit Vejjajiva won the media battle but the hardest job is yet to come

timesonline: On Saturday he was made to look like a clown in front of Asia’s most powerful leaders. By Sunday it was hard to believe that he would be around for more than a few days. Yet despite this, yesterday the Thai Government of Abhisit Vejjajiva appeared to be slowing his country’s slither into anarchy.

Whether this is a temporary lull before more violence will become clear in the next few days. It is a sign of how far Thailand has fallen that news which in normal times would be disastrous, starts to sound quite positive. If early reports are correct and only two people died in Bangkok yesterday, reportedly in fights between locals and protesters, then Thais have got off lightly. When nervous soldiers with automatic weapons meet furious protesters with petrol bombs, tragedies can unfold in seconds. But the Thai troops seem to have followed orders to employ restraint, and disperse crowds rather than attack them — and to fire their live bullets well up into the air. Mr Abhisit won the media battle yesterday — in their respective television interviews with the BBC and CNN, he seemed reasonable, patient and articulate while Thaksin Shinawatra, his exiled antagonist, was shrill and unconvincing.

The hardest job is still to come. About 4,000 protesters have fallen back to the streets in front of Government House. There are women and elderly people there, and children. To clear such a crowd without bloodshed would be difficult anyway — and the suspicion lingers that some of the Red Shirts are courting a violent response. A few unambiguous martyrs, genuinely innocent victims, would galvanise the movement at a moment when it may be in danger of losing momentum. This is what Mr Abhisit must avoid at all costs.
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