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After turmoil, hopes for stability with new Thai prime minister

Ahbisit's coalition has presented a stimulus package to shore up Thailand's faltering economy.

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If you think President-elect Barack Obama is taking on a tough job, spare a thought for Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

He came to power in a backroom deal aimed at ending months of political strife and street violence. An angry mob besieged parliament during his inaugural speech, forcing a change of venue. When opposition media displayed his cell phone number, hostile callers beseeched him day and night.

One month on, Mr. Abhisit leads a divided, bewildered nation with an increasingly shaky economy. On Wednesday, the Bank of Thailand cut interest rates to a four-year low of 2 percent and said growth in 2009 may fall to close to zero, down from an estimated four percent last year.

But the awkward coalition headed by Abhisit, a British-educated economist and Thailand's fourth prime minister in a year, is holding firm. A slew of by-election victories on Jan. 11 has extended its parliamentary majority. Talk of imminent elections and more turmoil has given way to cautious optimism that his government can outlast its scandal-hit predecessors, providing a dose of much needed stability.

Abhisit vowed Wednesday to "return Thai politics to normalcy" after months of unrest that peaked in November with the occupation by a royalist protest group of two international airports in Bangkok. Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand, he promised to bring to book the ringleaders of this and other acts of street violence in order to restore order and heal Thailand's political wounds.

"You will never have reconciliation unless there is justice," he said.

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