No elections

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  Crackdown in Thailand

Abhisit, who had previously proposed November polls if demonstrators dispersed, said that while he was not ruling out early elections, it would be "difficult'' to hold them this year.

He said that if all parties involved, including the red shirts, joined the peace process and over the next few months the government and parliament functioned smoothly "then that would be the right time" to hold polls.

Abhisit also defended his government's handling of the crisis and outlined its plans for moving forward.

He discussed in detail accusations that the military used inappropriate force in quelling the protest, with critics accusing the army of shooting unarmed demonstrators, including medical workers.

"It has always been our policy to seek a peaceful resolution of the problem and exercise utmost restraint,'' he said, saying that his main goal was always minimal loss of life.

The government blames armed elements among the demonstrators for many of the casualties, but has promised a full, independent investigation.

Abhisit stressed that the authorities sought to "separate extremist elements from the ordinary people,'' among the red shirts, saying the majority of the protesters were not tied to the violence and had legitimate grievances.

"It's unfortunate that a small group of people caused such trouble,'' he said.

Reconciliation plan

He promised to adhere to a reconciliation plan he offered the demonstrators during the protest that he said would address their grievances, including unfair media coverage and economic injustice.

"Reconciliation will never be achieved unless we can successfully reach out to those people,'' he said.

"What I would like to say to them is, they are entitled to different opinions and to have space ... to express those opinions, but please refrain from anything that could lead to violence and destruction.''

Most of the red shirt leaders have been detained or have submitted to questioning, leaving the movement disorganised.

Still, intelligence officials have information suggesting protesters have moved underground and could be planning violent retaliation in their strongholds in the north and northeast of the country, Lieutenant Siriya Khuengsirikul, an assistant army spokeswoman, said.

Siriya said the army is confident it can stop any outbreaks of renewed violence, and that the increased military watch was a precautionary measure.