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Page last updated at 09:56 GMT, Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Thai PM switches venue for speech

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva
Mr Abhisit had to make his speech at the foreign ministry

Thailand's new Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has delivered his maiden policy speech, after protesters forced him to switch venue.

After parliament was blockaded for two days running, Mr Abhisit assembled a quorum of MPs at the foreign ministry.

His speech outlined "urgent measures" for "stimulating the economy".

Demonstrators loyal to the ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had massed outside the gates of parliament to protest.

Under the country's constitution, a new Thai government cannot start work officially until it delivers its policy statement to a joint sitting of the House of Representatives and Senate.

Ministers argued that the sitting did not have to take place at parliament itself, and so MPs hurried from the building to the nearby Foreign Ministry to hear the speech.

Mr Abhisit promised he would be a healing figure who would put reconciliation between Thailand's bitterly opposed political camps at the top of his list of priorities.

He hopes to answer his critics with policies that will have an immediate impact on Thailand's rapidly deteriorating economic climate.

He has already announced a $8.6bn (5.9bn) package of government spending - much of that, he said, would be directed to the poor rural areas of the north and north-east, where support for the ousted government and former prime minister Thaksin remains strong.

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Riot police and protesters clash outside Thai parliament

No violence

It was a less dignified start than Mr Abhisit had been hoping for his new administration, says the BBC's Jonathan Head in Bangkok.

Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said the police had been ordered not to use excessive force to clear the protesters.

"We don't want to start our government's work with violence," he said.

But one of the leaders of the protest said that Mr Abhisit was free to enter the building.

"We still insist that the PM and parliament members should walk through us to get in. We guarantee their safety. By walking in, we can have a talk with him," Chakrapob Penkhair told the Associated Press news agency.

'No mandate'

Protesters say Mr Abhisit - the third prime minister in four months - has no mandate to lead and should resign.

He was elected in a parliamentary vote two weeks ago, after a court dissolved the former government, which was seen as close to Mr Thaksin.

Mr Thaksin was ousted from the prime minister's job in a military coup in 2006, but elections in December 2007 returned his associates to power.

The government that resulted faced a series of problems - including months of demonstrations against them by anti-Thaksin protesters.

In addition, several prime ministers were forced to step down under the weight of unfavourable court rulings against them.

Now Mr Thaksin's supporters are on the streets in moves to blockade parliament reminiscent of the protests mounted against them when they were in power.

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