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Thai Prime Minister Discusses Political Protests; Germany in Afghanistan

Aired April 27, 2010 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, protests and blockades in Thailand. Is the country heading towards civil war? We have an exclusive interview with the Thai prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to our program.

Tonight, after the bloodiest violence in almost two decades, tensions are still rising in Thailand, where anti-government protestors have used tires in an effort to blockade the Bangkok train system and to prevent the army from sending in reinforcements. It comes two weeks after the government says that opposition gunmen joined a battle that left 25 people dead and hundreds more wounded. The demonstrators say the gunmen have nothing to do with them.

And in a TV appearance with the army commander this week, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva rejected the protestors' demands for an election in three months.

In a moment, we'll hear why in our exclusive interview with the prime minister, and we'll ask him whether he'll order a military crackdown.

And later in the program, we turn to another political showdown, this time in Germany over the country's expanding role in Afghanistan.

But first, we begin with Thailand, and CNN's Arwa Damon in Bangkok.


ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a conflict that threatens to rip apart this country known for stunning beaches and easy tourism. Clashes have left at least two dozen dead and damaged Thailand's once-thriving economy.

For weeks, red shirt protestors have paralyzed downtown Bangkok, camped out in front of the capital's Thaian mall (ph), fortifying their defenses, and defying the government's orders to clear out, swearing they won't back down until the prime minister resigns and parliament is dissolved (inaudible)

WENG TOJIRAKARN, RED SHIRT CO-LEADER: Everybody is willing to fight for the genuine democracy with the king as head of state, and majority of them even sacrifice their life. They are also willingly to voluntarily to sacrifice their lives for the genuine democracy.

DAMON: The red shirts are mainly urban and rural poor, supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a 2006 coup. They view Thaksin as their hero, the man who gave them their rights of voice and policies that helped them economically. And they view the current government as illegitimate.

But now there are rival demonstrators who call themselves the multi- colored shirts. They're fed with the government's lack of control. And mocking the armed forces, they're holding their own demonstrations, vowing that if the government doesn't take action, they will.

As they fanned through the streets across from the red shirts last week, a volley of grenades left Bangkok's business district a bloody mess. The government initially said the grenades came from terrorists among the red shirts, who staunchly denied it.

(on-screen): Barricades, riot police, armed soldiers, this is what it has come to in streets that are more accustomed to relaxed and laid-back tourists.

(voice-over): And if the government and protestors don't find a way to resolve growing conflict here, all sides have agreed that anger and frustration could just push this country into civil war.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Bangkok.


AMANPOUR: So what will happen ahead? We turn now to our exclusive interview from Bangkok with the Thai prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva.


AMANPOUR: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for joining us.


AMANPOUR: Do you hold out any hope for any compromise with the opposition, the so-called red shirts, right now?

VEJJAJIVA: Well, we hope that everybody will come to their senses. There are a number of groups that are approaching the government, approaching the people in the red shirts movement. And they think that there should be discussions on what would be an appropriate way forward for the country.

As far as the government is concerned, we want to enforce the law in parallel with finding a political solution.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you, Mr. Prime Minister, it seemed for a few days that there might be a solution, some kind of new elections, perhaps within about three months, and then you rejected that.

VEJJAJIVA: No. The -- the so-called offer was made by the leaders of the red shirts that this solution must take place in 30 days.


It just doesn't make sense. When we had two rounds of open negotiations, I made it very clear that we need to make sure that there is a roadmap so that true reconciliation can be achieved.

What we want to do is to make sure that the Thai economy is well underway as far as recovery is concerned. We want to make sure that the conditions and environment is right so that reconciliation can take place, that we would have free, fair and peaceful elections. And there is -- there are a number of things that need to be done before this solution can take place.

AMANPOUR: In fact, some of the opposition -- or, rather, some of the royalists, some of the pro-government supporters seem to be getting very hard line and a -- and are wanting to see a military crackdown. Are you going to call on the military to disperse the protesters, to -- to restore order?

VEJJAJIVA: The military, the police, the civil servants, we are all working with the same objective, which is to achieve normalcy. We recognize that there has to be a political solution down the line. At the same time, we need to enforce the law.

Now, as far as people that you call getting more hard-line, we try to say to them that, yes, we, too, want to make sure that normalcy is restored through enforcing the law. At the same time, we do not reject any kind of political solution that would be acceptable to all.


VEJJAJIVA: But we have to take into account the views of some may say the majority of people, who say that we should not cave in to terrorist tactics. And we can understand the feeling of the general public that if the government gives in to intimidation and terrorist tactics, this sets a very bad precedent.

AMANPOUR: Well, are you saying then that the opposition -- are you calling them terrorists? And how do you explain the rather large number of deaths -- more than a couple of dozen deaths -- during the crackdown on April 10th?

VEJJAJIVA: Well, first of all, as far as what happened on the April the 10th, we have said that they would cooperate with independent investigations, particularly as carried out by the Human Rights Commission, which is a neutral body.

A number of evidence now suggests that the deaths have been caused by groups of people who are called the men in black. And we also have a number of clips and evidence to suggest that the men in black were operating among the red shirt people.

AMANPOUR: Do you call them terrorists, because you did. In the immediate aftermath, you said that a group of people who we can consider terrorists had taken advantage of -- of the gathering. Is that what you're saying?

VEJJAJIVA: Yes. Yes. And I'm sure that the international community would call anybody who used weapons, who used force and intimidation to make illegal demands, who caused violence terrorists. And they are precisely that.

But that doesn't mean that the number of demonstrators who are present in the middle of Bangkok now are terrorists. They also have their own demands; they also have their own grievances. It's just that elements of people who are engaged in terrorist tactics are among them.

AMANPOUR: Do you believe that if you need to restore order, you will have the support the army? There are reports -- there's evidence that perhaps some even active, some retired officers have been sympathetic to the red shirts, that during some of the pushback against the red shirts, the army sort of looked on as leaders escaped and didn't stop them. Are you confident that as the government, you have the support of the army?

VEJJAJIVA: Yes, I am confident. There is unity and the army knows what it has to do. But it also recognizes, just as I've said before, that there are a number of dimensions to this problem. There is the political dimension; there is the legal dimension. And we have to make sure that our operations are careful, which is why we have taken a lot of care to make sure that there is no undue force being used.

AMANPOUR: Well, you -- you've been talking about a political resolution. And it's clear now that the protests seem to be spreading, not just confined to Bangkok, but in some of the hinterlands, particularly in areas where the former prime minister has support. And I want to play now a clip of the former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, addressing his supporters by video link. Listen to this, and then I'll ask you a question afterward.


THAKSIN SHINAWATRA, FORMER PRIME MINISTER, THAILAND (through translator): People want to move forward, but the ruling elite pulls the country backward. I want to congratulate you all in advance that you will help make history in Thailand by changing the politics from an elite era to a real democracy.


AMANPOUR: Mr. Prime Minister, many don't regard your government as legitimate, having not been elected. What are you saying in terms of a political resolution? What resolution can you see that will defuse this crisis?

VEJJAJIVA: Well, a couple of things to set the record straight. The protests that we see in parallel in the provinces have been happening for quite some time.


But compared to the situation maybe a month ago, I think there has been a marked improvement on what is going on, in terms of us being able to contain movements not just in Bangkok, but also in the provinces.

Secondly, I am still very surprised by the accusation that somehow this government is illegitimate. It's as if this government comes from a coup. That's not the case. After the coup, a referendum was held on a constitution, an election was held. Two governments have assumed office since. We've assumed office under the same means, under the same rules, by the same vote of parliament as the two previous administrations.

So there is no question about that. And the opposition recognized that. That's why they've been operating in parliament as the opposition for over a year. So I think the -- the accusations and the allegations are unfounded.

AMANPOUR: Again, I just want to try to -- to -- to be clear. In the absence of any concrete alternative to the peace deal that's been squashed, there is a lot of fear that you will be, let's say, forced or encouraged to bring out the army. Are you saying categorically that that will not happen?

VEJJAJIVA: No, I'm saying that a political solution must be found in parallel with enforcement of the law. That is what I'm saying. And I don't think that it would be right to say that somehow there is only one side that is offering talks of any kind.

The government has been clear. I'm probably the first prime minister who has been with -- with -- who has been able to talk to the leaders of the protests as I did earlier on -- or late in March or early April.

I've also offered to cut my term short. But what I'm saying is that the date for elections should be set in such a way that it benefits the general public, taking into account the views of everybody, not just the people who are demonstrating on the streets.

AMANPOUR: Are you concerned that really extensive civil strife, civil war could break out?

VEJJAJIVA: Of course. And we have been at pains to point out to people who disagree with the protesters that they should exercise restraint. And we will do all we can to make sure that no clashes happen between the two groups of people.

AMANPOUR: So, finally, where do you see this going over the next several days? And how long do you think you can afford to allow this strife to continue? Do you see any chance of any kind of deal being resurrected in the near term?

VEJJAJIVA: We recognize that, as every day passes by, you know, the people of Thailand suffer, the country suffers. But we want to make sure that we make sure that there is rule of law.

Now, we will try to enforce the law with minimum losses, and we will try to find a political resolution. But it takes time, patience and cooperation. We will do the best we can and try to move the country forward as quickly as possible.

AMANPOUR: On that note, Prime Minister, thank you so much for joining us.

VEJJAJIVA: You're welcome.


AMANPOUR: And on that note, on Twitter, we've posted an article on all of this which says the danger for Thailand is that people on both sides want to escalate the crisis. So take a look and tweet us your responses at

And next, the controversy over Germany's efforts to stay in a war that polls say more than 60 percent of the German people oppose. We'll be right back.



AMANPOUR: There was a moment of silence in the German parliament last week for the 43 German soldiers who've been killed in Afghanistan since 2002. Chancellor Angela Merkel says that it would be irresponsible for Germany to withdraw its nearly 5,000 troops now, but opposition to the war is rising, and some soldiers are even wearing patches that sarcastically say, "I fight for Merkel." They say that's because she has not properly explained the actual stakes there.

In a moment, I'll talk about the war and the deep divisions it's causing in Germany with one of the country's leading political thinkers, but first, Frederick Pleitgen reports.


FRED PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): War games in central Germany. Troops battle mock Taliban fighters under the watchful eyes of their defense minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, their final test before deploying to Afghanistan, a war they will be fighting without the support of their fellow Germans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The lack of support really worried me in the beginning, but now I have decided I want to go to Afghanistan. I don't need anyone's support. I don't care what other people say.

PLEITGEN: German politicians do care. A recent poll found 70 percent of Germans want to pull their troops out of Afghanistan. One factor: Germans' uneasy relationship with their military ever since World War II.

JAN TECHAU, GERMAN COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: The fact that we do have a military, but not fully like it, the fact that we sent these troops abroad and asked them to do horrible things and then don't fully appreciate this, this is a psychological predisposition of this country.

PLEITGEN: A majority of Germans favor their army, but outright support of military action is lukewarm, making Germany's Afghanistan policy a political minefield. And so, earlier this year, the country leading NATO in northern Afghanistan pledged only 500 additional soldiers, far fewer than NATO allies would have hoped.

The defense minister said he's working to sell the policy.

KARL-THEODOR ZU GUTTENBERG, GERMAN DEFENSE MINISTER: We tried to explain to our population what they're doing there, why they're doing it, and what the key elements in Afghanistan are. That's -- it's quite important to be frank and clear and blunt.

PLEITGEN: An air strike called in by a German ground commander last September that may have killed scores of civilians further damaged Germans' confidence in the war.

And German casualties are mounting. Seven soldiers were killed in Taliban ambushes in April alone. Defense Minister Guttenberg recently handed ISAF Commanding General Stanley McChrystal medals of honor for American troops who medevac'd Germans off the battlefield. The German army did not have enough medical evacuation helicopters of its own.

KARL-THEODOR ZU GUTTENBERG (through translator): We know that as partners we are dependent on capabilities that we don't have. And so I want to thank the U.S. for bringing assets to the table where we have deficits.

PLEITGEN: More than 40 Germans have fallen in Afghanistan since the mission began. And when we went on patrol with troops in Mazar-e Sharif, their message for the German public was this: Understand our mission, respect our sacrifices.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We notice time and again that the population is not behind us, and that is sad, but this is my job, and I have to do it.

PLEITGEN: Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: And joining me now from Berlin is Ralf Fuecks, president of the Henrich Boell Stiftung, which is the German Green Party's think-tank.

Thank you for joining us, Mr. Fuecks. Let's get right down to the nitty-gritty. Up until now, the German government has not even called what it's doing in Afghanistan a war. Why is that? And is that changing?


RALF FUECKS, PRESIDENT OF HEINRICH BOELL STIFTUNG: Of course, Germany has quite difficult relationship with war. And that's right so, given the history of Germany during the last century. But slowly, we are realizing that our troops in Afghanistan are involved in a real war, in a counterinsurgency mission, but still politicians shy a little bit away from explaining that to the German public because war is such a difficult thing now in Germany.

You can say Germany moved from one extreme to the other, from a very militarist and aggressive nation to a pacifist nation today.

AMANPOUR: All right. Well, let me -- let me posit this. According to various polls, anywhere up to 70 percent of the German people disapprove of their country's intervention in Afghanistan. Now, you belong to the Green Party, and yet you approve. Tell me why.

FUECKS: Well, there are three basic reasons. First, it's about security of Germany and our allies, given the terrorist attacks from 9/11 based in -- in Afghanistan, launched from Afghanistan. Second, it's about regional stability, if you think about Pakistan as a nuclear weapons power, and Central Asia. And, third, it's about securing a decent life, minimum of self-government and of human rights for the Afghan people.

AMANPOUR: Is that message getting through to the German people? I read that you had a debate with a former senior member of the Protestant church there and you were not able to persuade her of the notion of a moral or a just war.

FUECKS: Because there's deep-rooted skepticism that war could be a just undertaking, and I would say, OK, war always is a cruel thing, but sometimes it is just necessary. Let's not talk about just wars; let's talk about necessary wars.

But we have this kind of deep-rooted pacifism that war never could be justified. And it's hard to convince the majority of the people that we have to risk the life of our soldiers for such a remote country like Afghanistan.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me put to you what Angela Merkel, the chancellor -- your chancellor -- has said recently to parliament.


ANGELA MERKEL, CHANCELLOR OF GERMANY (through translator): The partners in the international community realize that we cannot make Afghanistan into a democracy according to Western standards, and that should not be our goal. More than eight years since the beginning of this mission, we have to realize -- and I say this with self-criticism and without pointing blame at anyone else -- that there was some progress, but there were also too many steps back, and our goals were particularly unrealistic and in some cases even wrong.


AMANPOUR: So is she selling the intervention? Or is she giving a reason why German troops should pull out?

FUECKS: Of course, she's lowering down the hurdles for pulling out German troops, by watering down the purposes we are fighting for in Afghanistan.

I guess nobody dreams about establishing a full-fledged, Western-style democracy in Afghanistan, but I'm convinced that there will be no security and stability in Afghanistan, without a minimum of state building, without a minimum of responsible governance, and without a minimum of liberty in Afghanistan. You have to prevent the comeback of the Taliban by empowering the Afghan people.

AMANPOUR: And what do you think the people of Germany will say eventually and in the end? Will Germany keep its commitment to Afghanistan? And how much does the fact that this is all linked to the United States, how much does that play amongst the German people?

FUECKS: There's a widespread perception that Afghanistan is an American war. And I think it's not enough to argue for solidarity within NATO and with our American allies. We have to convince the German people that it's in our own interest, but in the interest of international security that our troops are fighting in Afghanistan.

AMANPOUR: Well, as you know, the rules of engagement for many of the European troops, including Germany, vary.


I mean, for instance, Germany does not take part in any offensive actions. But I know that General Stanley McChrystal -- or it's been reported -- that he would like Germany to take part in some actions towards the end of the year. Do you think that this is going to be possible? Will Germany join the U.S. in its offensive actions?

FUECKS: The tactics of the German troops in Afghanistan already has changed. They are now starting to partner the Afghan troops. They are going out into the provinces. They are taking much more risk than in the last years. And they suffered more casualties than before.

In one week, they lost seven lives. And this is a new test on the capability of the German public to agree to a war with such a high level of risk for our soldiers.

You know, in the beginning, we tried to sell the Afghan mission as a kind of police action, supporting the Afghans in rebuilding the country. And now we have to face the realities of war, of killing and being killed. And this can only be justified if there is a real perspective to succeed.

And I guess this is the lack in the public communication. We -- our government of Chancellor Merkel tried to explain why we are in Afghanistan, but they do a bad job in explaining how we can succeed in Afghanistan.

AMANPOUR: On that note, Ralf Fuecks, thank you so much indeed for joining us.

FUECKS: Thank you, Christiane.


AMANPOUR: And on Facebook, we have a commentary called Facing Reality in Afghanistan. It is time for Germans to talk about war. So do you think it's time for that? Log on to and weigh in.

And that's it for now. For all of us here, goodbye from New York.