Thai FM blasts former PM as terrorist

Thailand's foreign minister on Monday lashed out at former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, accusing him of personally instigating the country's deadliest political clashes in nearly two decades.

In heated comments on the sidelines of a global nuclear summit, Kasit Piromya compared Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 coup, to 20th century dictators Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin and to the terror group al-Qaida.

"He's a bloody terrorist," Kasit told a small group of academics and reporters.

Kasit urged the United States to pressure Thaksin's supporters to turn away from violence and enter into negotiations with the government. He said that if anti-Thaksin protesters respond to the street violence, Thailand could see a military coup. The army has not hesitated to stage coups during previous political strife.

More than 20 people died Saturday in clashes that are part of a larger power struggle between rural supporters of Thaksin and members of the country's traditional ruling elite. Protesters in recent years have taken to the streets each time their rivals have come to power. The exiled Thaksin was sentenced to two years in jail in 2008 for breaking a conflict-of-interest law.

The pro-Thaksin forces want Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who canceled his trip to Washington because of the chaos, to dissolve parliament immediately and call new elections. They feel their votes were ignored after Thaksin was ousted from power in 2006. Thaksin's party is popular among the country's rural majority for nitiating social and economic welfare programs.

Despite his anger, Kasit said that while the government won't allow the protests to force it to dissolve, it is ready to enter into negotiations.

Earlier, Kasit said the clashes are part of the traumatic and messy democratic process of giving a voice to rdinary farmers and workers after years of rule by the elite.

Thailand has seen three governments in the four years since the 2006 coup, and Kasit acknowledged that his country has "not found the right formula. We have not found the compromise."

"Thailand cannot go on behaving like a banana republic... and become a problem child," Kasit said at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. "This is an unfinished symphony."

"As longtime friends of Thailand, President Obama and I are deeply saddened by the recent violence and loss of life in Bangkok," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement. "We believe firmly that a negotiated solution is possible."

She noted that Tuesday is Songkran day, the final day of the year in Thailand's system.

"We are hopeful that this New Year will be a time of renewal and reconciliation, and an opportunity to gather with family friends, and neighbors to honor Thailand[s rich traditions and culture. While you continue on the path to resolve your political differences, we remain confident in the strong, enduring bonds between the United States and Thailand."

Kasit said the exiled Thaksin must serve his jail term before he could articipate in efforts to set up negotiations.

Kasit's comments came as Thailand's Election Commission ordered the ruling party be dissolved for allegedly misusing campaign donations. The decision is a potential victory for protesters who paraded slain comrades through Bangkok on Monday to demand the prime inister's resignation.

The United States urged a peaceful negotiated settlement and appealed to both the opposition and the government to find a solution that would strengthen Thai democracy and the rule of law.

The decision must be endorsed by the Constitutional Court to take effect. It came soon aft Thailand's influential army chief said new elections might be needed to resolve the political crisis.

Kasit said ruling officials would respect the final decision, even if it means the government is dissolved. "We go by the rules of the game," he said. "We will not interfere."