- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 24, 2010


BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s embattled prime minister appeared on television Sunday but offered no initiatives to end the country’s weekslong, sometimes bloody, political crisis a day after rejecting a compromise proposal by protesters occupying central Bangkok.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva spoke in a nationally televised interview a day after the breakdown of talks with the protesters — who are demanding new elections — dashed hopes that a peaceful way could be found to end the stalemate.

Clashes have killed at least 26 people and wounded nearly 1,000 others since the “Red Shirt” protesters began occupying key tourism and shopping areas of central Bangkok more than a month ago.

“The solution process is ongoing but may not please everyone. The government, and not only the military, is preparing to be ready for what would lead to the next level,” Abhisit said in a short statement to the interviewer. He did not elaborate during follow-up questions.

While stopping short of accusing the Red Shirts, Abhisit said that rocket-propelled grenades fired in Thursday’s violence in the heart of the city’s financial district were launched from inside a protest site. At least one person was killed Thursday, and 25 others died April 10 during clashes as soldiers unsuccessfully tried to clear the protesters from one of their camps.

The conflict has been characterized by some as class warfare, pitting the country’s vast rural poor against an elite that has traditionally held power.

The protesters, who claim the government took power illegitimately, had previously demanded Parliament be dissolved immediately, while the government said it would disband parliament in six months.

The Red Shirts softened their stance Friday, offering the government a proposed compromise of 30 days to disband the legislature in a move they said was aimed at preventing further bloodshed.

Red Shirt leaders said that if no compromise was reached they would continue their demonstrations in the Bangkok commercial district that they have transformed into a protest camp with barricades of tires and bamboo stakes, paralyzing business and daily life in the city.

Many in the capital have grown weary of the confrontation and the disruptions, and thousands of residents gathered at a park Saturday to demand the protests end. “Please stop the mob — I want a normal life,” read one sign.

The Red Shirts consist mainly of rural supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and pro-democracy activists who opposed the military coup that ousted him in 2006. They believe Abhisit’s government is illegitimate because it came to power under military pressure through a parliamentary vote after disputed court rulings ousted two elected pro-Thaksin governments.

Since the beginning of the crisis, Abhisit’s government has threatened to curtail the protests but has failed to follow through. Military units from the 200,000-strong army have been routed in several confrontations with the crudely armed demonstrators. The police have often melted when faced with determined protesters.

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