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Young koala at Thailand's Chiang Mai Zoo represents hope for the country's political reconciliation

June 4, 2010 |  2:23 pm

Koala BANGKOK — A baby koala and a young girl are helping move Thailand toward reconciliation after the country's recent bitter political violence.

Four-year-old Lapassarada Mung-opas submitted the winning entry in a contest to name the baby koala at the Chiang Mai Zoo in northern Thailand. Her suggestion, Prong-dong -- "Reconciliation" -- was picked over 496 other names, including "Ice," "Sugar" and "Lotus."

"The situation now is so dire" that people with political differences "can't look each other in the eye," Nipon Wichairat, the zoo's assistant director, said Wednesday.

"It's a reminder for us to turn to each other," he said, explaining the winning entry.

The girl's grandmother, Lampang Marod, 66, said the family visited the zoo last month during the unrest in Bangkok and didn't take sides in the conflict. "We don't discuss politics," she said.

The koala, or joey, was born last year and recently left her mother's pouch.

Lapassarada, who lives in Nonthaburi, a province just north of Bangkok, will receive 10,000 baht ($307) and lifetime free admission to the zoo for her winning submission.

She answered a phone call from the Associated Press but declined to comment because she was busy watching cartoons on TV.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has made reconciliation his government's priority after 89 people were killed and more than 1,500 were hurt during two months of street protests by "Red Shirt" demonstrators demanding new elections.

The army ended the protests with deadly force, and in a last burst of defiance, militants set fire to more than 30 buildings in the capital, including the country's largest shopping mall and the stock exchange.

Abhisit's plan includes reforms to fight economic injustice and media bias, independent investigations of violence connected with the protests, and amending the constitution to be more fair to all political parties.

However, critics say he is off to a bad start as authorities continue to arrest Red Shirt supporters and censor the media under a state of emergency declared during the protests.

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-- Kinan Suchaovanich, Associated Press

Photo: Prong-dong clings to another koala at the Chiang Mai Zoo. Credit: Associated Press

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