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Ways of reconciliation

The coup makers in Thailand are in favor of dialogue with the Muslim rebels in the south.


[military coup] The now deposed Prime Minister of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra, has refused to negotiate with the Muslim rebels south of the border with Malaysia, and has received strong criticism from his army chief Sonthi Boonyaratglin. The army chief, who is a Muslim, is in charge of the military junta who took power on Tuesday, September 19.

"Thailand is still a democracy," Sonthi told the Bangkok newspaper The Nation after the coup.

Violent clashes between government soldiers and Muslim rebels have killed more than 1400 people since January 2004.

The junta is made up of both Buddhists and Muslims, and Sonthi is the first Muslim to ever serve as commander in Buddhist Thailand. Sonthi has promised that a new prime minister will be in place within two weeks and that elections will be held as soon as a new constitution is approved in a referendum.

- This is a palace revolution and an internal settlement between the power elites in Bangkok, says Hugo Stokke.

He is a researcher at Chr Michelsen Institute and was in Bangkok during the last coup in 1991, when things all went smoothly.

Security policy is just one of many areas where Thaksin has been very responsive to the opposition, says Stokke.

- It is not a given that the military junta will be tougher than Thaksin was.

Throughout the last century, Thailand alternated between military and civilian rule, and up to the last coup in 1991 there were 17 coups.

- The king has great real power and the coup plotters must have had a more or less tacit consent from the king, Stokke believes.

He compares Thaksin to Silvio Berlusconi.

- Both are businessmen who have bought loyalty and support, and both stand for a nationalist, populist policy.

While Berlusconi's party is called Forza Italia, heia Italia, the name of Thaksin's party, Thai Rak Thai, can be translated as "Thai loves Thai".

Thaksin does not come from the political establishment in Bangkok, but is an outsider from Northern Thailand. When he won the election in 2001, he had support from farmers and rural workers, promising a district-friendly redistribution policy for most people.

Recently, dissatisfaction with Thaksin's government has increased. The main opposition parties did not stand for the April elections, blaming Thaksin's regime for corruption. After the election, the king initiated an independent investigation, and the election was declared invalid. Thaksin was supposed to organize new elections in 2006, but this dragged out, and lately there have been rumors that a coup would come in Bangkok.

Thailand's central bank governor Pridiyathorn Devakula has agreed to take over as prime minister and returns home from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank meeting in Singapore, writes The Nation.

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