“We believe that six more months of continued stability.


.. should be able to set the scene for a possible early election next year,” he told a think tank in New York, where he was attending the UN General Assembly.

“But that very much depends, still, on how the opposition and the Redshirts respond,” Abhisit added in the talk at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“If they would prove that they are interested in democratic movement, peaceful assembly and rejection of any illegal activity — and of course violent activity — then I think we should be on course to achieve a solution.”

Early elections are a key demand of the opposition Red Shirts movement.

Abhisit, the British-born, Oxford-educated head of the establishment Democrat Party, does not have to go to the polls until the end of next year.

He had proposed holding polls this November but shelved the plan when opposition protests in April and May ended in a bloody government crackdown and riots in Bangkok.

Ninety people died and nearly 1,900 were injured in the army assault to clear away the protestors on May 19.

The protesters were campaigning for elections they hoped would oust the government, which they view as undemocratic because it came to power with the backing of the army after a court ruling threw out the previous administration.

Most of the Red Shirt leaders are now in jail or wanted on terrorism charges for their roles in the two-month-long mass rally.

Abhisit insisted that elections could take place, but only once stability had returned. “I don’t believe in elections where there can be intimidation, threats or use of force,” he said.

He acknowledged that “we cannot claim to have returned the situation to complete normalcy,” but said that “ordinary people are not affected” by the continuing emergency rule.

He also defended himself against accusations of damaging media freedoms, saying that only outlets which “incite violence” had been closed.

“I’m not sure whether you’d allow any special station for Al-Qaeda here,” he told his mostly American audience.

Sporadic violence continues to afflict the country. A small bomb hidden in a rubbish bin exploded in a residential area of Bangkok on Friday, wounding three people, police said.

Despite the instability, Thailand’s economy is performing strongly, the premier said. GDP is projected to grow eight percent this year and exports are growing at 30 percent a year, he said