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Thailand envoy visits Salt Lake

He notes that many Utah companies do business in his land

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His Excellency Virasakdi Futrakul speaks at the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah. He said his country is in a transition stage following a military coup in mid-September.

His Excellency Virasakdi Futrakul speaks at the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah. He said his country is in a transition stage following a military coup in mid-September.

Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News

Thailand will be back among the "front ranks of democratic nations" in Asia within a year, predicts the country's ambassador, who was in Salt Lake City this week.

Virasakdi Futrakul, whose full title is "His Excellency, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of Thailand," says his country is in a transition stage following a military coup that toppled the government in mid-September.

"The political change was peaceful. There were no casualties at all," Virasakdi told his audience at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics on Wednesday. The Parliament is now drawing up a new constitution to replace the one that did not contain enough checks and balances on former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, he said. A public referendum will then be held, followed by a general election in October 2007.

Although Thaksin was popular in the Thai countryside because of his policies that returned federal taxes to local governments and instituted universal health care, he was unpopular among the middle class of Bangkok, the ambassador said. On Sept. 20, when it appeared that a large contingent from the countryside might turn a peaceful anti-Thaksin demonstration into a violent clash, the military intervened, he explained.

Although some Western nations and human-rights groups complain that the coup was a setback to democracy, ushering in curbs on press freedoms, the ambassador said that there is currently no censorship. Virasakdi explained the coup in a matter-of-fact fashion at the end of a talk that centered mostly on Thailand's long-standing support of the United States and its economic ties to both the United States and Utah.

The United States is Thailand's largest trading partner, the recipient of one-fourth of the country's exports. Virasakdi noted that Utah is well known in Thailand for its high-tech industry and said many Utah companies now do business in Thailand. He singled out XanGo, the Lehi company that makes a health drink out of the Thai mangosteen fruit.

In his travels throughout the United States, Virasakdi said, he has met many Americans who still confuse Thailand with Taiwan. He then spent part of his talk detailing his country's "strong friendship" with the United States, beginning with King Rama IV's offer of elephants to President James Buchanan in the 1860s.


E-mail: jarvik@desnews.com