Thai PM calls for peaceful end to political crisis

BANGKOK (AFP) - Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Tuesday urged a "peaceful solution" to bitter political divisions in the kingdom that have spurred sometimes bloody protests, causing the embattled premier to call snap polls.

Ms Yingluck vowed not to give up working for reconciliation in the crisis-hit nation, where demonstrators have sought to unseat her government in a bid to rid the country of the influence of her polarising brother Thaksin - a billionaire former premier.

"The entire Thai people, regardless of political ideology or different beliefs, (should) turn toward each other to find a peaceful solution for our country," she said in a New Year message on her official Facebook page.

Weeks of anti-government protests have shaken the Thai capital, throwing the country's fragile political system into fresh uncertainty and causing concern among the international community.

Demonstrators have vowed to step up their efforts to disrupt the polls on Feb 2, after a short lull in activity for New Year celebrations.

Thailand has been periodically convulsed by political bloodshed since Thaksin was overthrown by royalist generals in a coup seven years ago.

The protesters, a mix of southerners, middle-class Thais and the urban elite, accuse the tycoon-turned-politician of corruption and say he controls his sister's government from his self-exile in Dubai.

They want an unelected "people's council" to run the country to oversee loosely-defined reforms - such as an end to alleged "vote buying" - before new elections are held in around a year to 18 months.

Yingluck called elections in the hope of bringing an end to the rallies, which have drawn tens of thousands of people calling on her to step down.

Her party still enjoys strong support in the north and north-east of the country and is expected to win the election if it goes ahead.

The Election Commission last week urged the government to postpone the polls after protesters stormed a party registration venue in Bangkok, triggering clashes in which a policeman and a demonstrator were shot dead by unidentified gunmen.

The government rejected the plea, saying a delay would only bring more violence.

On Saturday a gunman opened fire at opposition protesters in Bangkok, killing one person and wounding several others.

Demonstrators also besieged a number of candidate registration venues in the opposition-dominated south on Saturday, forcing officials to suspend the process in seven provinces.

Several outbreaks of street violence in recent weeks have left eight people dead and about 400 wounded.

It is the worst civil strife since 2010, when more than 90 people were killed in a bloody military crackdown on pro-Thaksin Red Shirt protests under the previous government.