BANGKOK, Thailand - Claiming order has been restored after a spasm of violence, Thailand's prime minister made an emotional appeal to the nation Friday to heal the political wounds that divide it. But one of his senior advisers said the rifts are increasing pressure on him to call elections to prove he has the public mandate.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said the focus has shifted from securing the country to restoring normal routines, particularly in Bangkok, where a two-month confrontation between his government and so-called Red Shirt protesters who want him to resign left at least 84 dead.
"We will continue to move swiftly to restore normalcy, and we recognize that as we move ahead there are huge challenges," Abhisit said in a televised address. "Let me reassure you that the government will meet those challenges."
Bangkok remains in a state of emergency and under a nighttime curfew through the weekend, its first since a pro-democracy uprising against a military government in 1992. But with the sound of gunfire and explosions silenced, a major bank and department store announced it will open 92 branches nationwide from Saturday. The curfew in Pattaya, a popular beach resort, was lifted Friday.
In Bangkok's Chinatown, many of the gold and food shops reopened and the streets were teeming with life and traffic. Many other businesses, train services, and schools stayed shuttered as cleanup operations continued to clear the streets where the worst fighting took place.
Troops and police in the capital conducted searches of high-rise buildings and hotels to check for bombs or booby traps left behind by the demonstrators, whose main encampment in an upscale commercial quarter of Bangkok was cleared in a bloody military operation Wednesday that left 15 dead and more than 100 injured.
Thai media reported that grenades were found in front of an office building, along with a gas container attached to a truck parked near a bridge. If it had detonated, the reports said, it could have caused the bridge to collapse.
"We can certainly repair damaged infrastructure and buildings, but the important thing is to heal the emotional wounds and restore unity among the Thai people," Abhisit said. "Fellow citizens, we all live in the same house."
"Now, our house has been damaged," he said. "We have to help each other."
Other top officials acknowledged that although the violence was subsiding, the larger problem was far from solved and said the underlying divisions facing the country - and the Abhisit government - are daunting.
"The protests ending really is only the beginning of a difficult healing and reconciliation process that the country and its people need to go through," Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij said Friday while on a trip to Tokyo. "Our term ends in 2012. It is, in my opinion, highly unlikely that the government will choose to stay for the full term."