THAILAND's bishops this week called on Catholics to pray for a return of peace to the streets in the wake of violent clashes which this week forced the country's unelected prime minster to resign.
In an impassioned message to the nation, the head of Thailand's episcopal Bishop George Yod Phimphisan of Udon Thani said the Church "deplored the tragic happenings and losses, especially the loss of our brothers and sisters".
As many as 343 people were reported unaccounted for in a list published this week in the English-language Bangkok Post after anti-government demonstrators were fired on by the military in the Thai capital. Government officials have admitted that 43 people died in the demonstrations since they began on May 17.
Prime minister Suchinda Kraprayoon, who has been blamed for the deaths of the demonstrators. resigned from office on Sunday. Public protest mounted after he took up his post in April, without having been elected. under the protection of the military junta which assumed power in Thailand last year.
The bishops urged Catholics to "pray that all sides will reconsider their responsibilities for the good of the Thai nation, will control their emotions, stop all violence and brutality and come forward together to dialogue in a spirit of calmness and generosity toward each other."
The bishops, normally taciturn, acknowledged the tension still hanging over Bangkok. "Because of the disturbances and the unrest. and our deep concern for those who have suffered, the bishops' conference requests and invites all priests. religious and all our Christian brothers and sisters to join in offering prayers to our Lord," they said. The bishops demanded that the Catholic community, which makes up only a tiny percentage of Thailand's predominantly Buddhist population, work for peace after a week of turmoil.
Thailand has not witnessed such violence since the bloody suppression of a student uprising in 1973.
On Sunday thousands of people in Bangkok, many in traditional mourning dress, assembled for religious ceremonies led by more than 300 Buddhist monks.
Pressure on prime minister Suchinda Kraprayoon from Thailand's King Bhiumibol Adulyadej, who is revered throughout the country, to resolve the worsening political crisis helped force him to relinquish power.
After submitting his resignation to the King, Suchinda said he hoped all sides would move towards reconciliation.