- The Washington Times - Monday, April 26, 2010

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s ailing king spoke Monday for the first time since his country descended into political chaos, but the man seen by many as the best hope for securing a peaceful resolution failed to address the deadly crisis that has shut down parts of Bangkok.

Speaking from the hospital, where he has been for more than seven months, King Bhumibol Adulyadej told newly appointed judges that they should carry out their duties faithfully and help keep the country stable.

“In the country, there might be people who neglect their duties, but you can set an example that there are those who perform their duties strictly and honestly,” the 82-year-old king said.

His vague comments could be seen as a possible reference to accusations that the government has failed to keep order when faced with the militant protesters who have taken over part of central Bangkok.

The king’s lack of clear statement, however, signaled he was not prepared to take an active role in resolving the crisis, as he did in 1973 when he stopped bloodshed during a student uprising and again in 1992 during anti-military street protests.

The U.S.-born Bhumibol, the world’s longest reigning monarch, has been hospitalized since Sept. 19, when he was admitted with fatigue and loss of appetite. The palace has said he is recovering from a lung inflammation but not explained why he has been hospitalized for so long.

At least 26 people have been killed and nearly 1,000 wounded since protesters called Red Shirts began occupying parts of the capital, closing down five-star hotels and shopping malls and devastating the country’s vital tourism industry.

The government said it hoped to resolve the problem peacefully, despite a breakdown in negotiations, but added it could not allow the protests to go on indefinitely.

“We’re required to keep peace and return the area to normalcy,” government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said.

The Red Shirts consist mainly of poor, rural supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and pro-democracy activists who opposed the military coup that ousted him in 2006. They believe that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government, backed by the urban elite, is illegitimate.

The conflict has been characterized by some as class warfare, and a pro-establishment group known as the Yellow Shirts has demanded that authorities crack down on the demonstrators — even implying they might take matters into their own hands.

“The government has the responsibility to protect the people but instead shows its weakness and inability to enforce the law,” said Suriyasai Katasila, a leader of the Yellow Shirts.

Thousands of Red Shirt protesters have shed their signature crimson attire as their leaders warned they should be prepared to blend in if the government cracks down on their enclave. Many Red Shirt supporters outside the capital have tried to prevent police reinforcements from moving into Bangkok.

In at least six places around the country, Red Shirt supporters scattered nails along roads, set up checkpoints, and searched vans and buses for police officers headed to the capital.

Some police heading to Bangkok were forced to return to their bases, while police in the central province of Phitsanulok, impatient after a five-hour standoff with the Red Shirts, broke through a cordon of protesters who hurled rocks and wooden sticks at them, Thai media reported.

While there was no violence in the central Bangkok shopping area where protesters remained camped for a 24th day, an explosion injured eight people late Sunday near the home of former Prime Minister Banharn Silapa-archa, who is allied with the ruling coalition.

Mr. Thaksin, who fled Thailand ahead of a conviction on corruption charges, said Monday that he is in contact with the protesters, and he defended their cause.

“We just fight for democracy. Let them fight for democracy and justice,” he said in Montenegro, one of a handful of countries that have offered him a passport. Others, such as Germany and Britain, have barred him.

Meanwhile, the government appeared to have left itself few immediate ways out of the crisis.

Mr. Panitan, the government spokesman, said the government could not tolerate the protesters’ camping out in the city anymore but appeared to rule out sending in security forces any time soon because such a move likely would lead to violence.

He also said political negotiations to resolve the crisis peacefully would remain on hold until the government had arrested Red Shirt leaders accused of inciting violence. Warrants have been issued for two dozen leaders.

Over the weekend, Mr. Abhisit rejected a compromise offered by the Red Shirts, dashing hopes for a peaceful end to the standoff.

“There will be no negotiations until shadowy elements are contained,” he said.

Associated Press writer Predrag Milic in Podgorica, Montenegro, contributed to this report.

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