Thai PM finally sets out policy

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva finally made his maiden policy speech on Tuesday, but the venue was switched to the Foreign Ministry as anti-government demonstrators blockaded parliament for a second day.

Abhisit, who was elected in a parliamentary vote two weeks ago, had to deliver the speech before his government could formally start work and implement measures to try to stop the economy sliding into recession, reported Reuters.

Hundreds of red-shirted demonstrators moved to the ministry after news spread that Abhisit was speaking there. Riot police beefed up security but there were no clashes by the time he had finished speaking at around 12:15 a.m. EST.

In a speech carried live on television, Abhisit referred to the political crisis that has seen four prime ministers this year and paralyzed policy-making, culminating in an airport blockade by demonstrators at the turn of the month that crippled tourism.

"Political conflicts that have spread to civic groups could push the economy, along with the tourism industry, into recession if action is not taken quickly to resolve them and revive confidence among investors and foreign tourists," he said.

"These conflicts are the country's weakness, especially at a time the world economy is entering its worst crisis in a century," he added in copies of the speech given to reporters.

Export figures due later on Tuesday are expected to show plunging demand for the country's goods due to the weak global economy. Thailand's economy is likely to contract this quarter and may slide into recession in 2009, economists say.

Ministers argued that, constitutionally, the speech did not have to be given in parliament and Buranaj Smutharaks, a spokesman for Abhisit's Democrat Party, said there were enough lawmakers present at the ministry to give a quorum.

The demonstrators, supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra angry at the dismissal of a pro-Thaksin government by the courts this month, had already forced the cancellation of the speech on Monday.

Buranaj said Abhisit's main concern was to avoid a repeat of the bloody clashes around parliament in October between police and the anti-Thaksin People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), protesting against the pro-Thaksin government in power then.

Two people died and hundreds were injured in those clashes.

Satit Wongnongtaey, a minister charged with relations with the media, told reporters: "Our checks with the law say it is not entirely necessary to make the policy statement only in parliament."

The venue had been changed "due to this unavoidable and abnormal situation," he added.

The red-shirted supporters of Thaksin, ousted by the military in 2006, had spent the night outside the gates of parliament, vowing to stay until Abhisit called fresh elections.

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