- The Washington Times - Monday, May 3, 2010

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s prime minister, facing calls for new elections, on Monday proposed a Nov. 14 date for the vote if anti-government protesters accept his reconciliation plan and peace and stability is restored.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva made the offer in a live speech Monday night on all television channels, eight weeks into tense standoff in the capital that has cost 27 lives.

He said that he would proceed with his reconciliation plan even if the so-called Red Shirt protesters occupying central Bangkok rejected it, but in that case he could not set a date for the election.

The Red Shirts claim that Abhisit came to power illegitimately with the help of the army. They have called for parliament to be dissolved in 30 days or less. An election must be held within 60 days of parliament being dissolved.

A Red Shirt protest leader, Jatuporn Prompan, said the group would hold a meeting to discuss Mr. Abhisit’s offer and give its response Tuesday.

Mr. Abhisit spelled out a five-point reconciliation plan that he said took into account the main grievances of the protesters, whose occupation of major streets in the capital since mid-March has caused economic havoc and further polarized the country, which saw unity fade away after a 2006 coup ousted elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

“If there is a reconciliation process and the country has peace and stability the election can be held on November 14,” Mr. Abhisit said. “That is the goal the government is ready to pursue.”

Mr. Thaksin was ousted after protesters accused him of corruption and abuse of power, and since that time the nation has been split between his supporters and opponents. Mr. Thaksin’s support came in large part from the poorer rural electorate, who benefited from his innovative social welfare and village-level economic stimulus measures.

Mr. Abhisit’s five points covered respect for the country’s constitutional monarchy; reforms to solve problems of economic injustice; free but responsible media to be overseen by an independent watchdog agency; independent investigations of violent incidents connected with the protest that caused 27 deaths and almost 1,000 injuries; and amendment of the constitution to be more fair to all political parties.

“Looking at these measures, I realize that they may not be to anybody’s liking,” said Mr. Abhisit, explaining further: “For reconciliation to take place, nobody gets everything he wants.”

Mr. Abhisit unveiled his plan just a day after he warned that security forces were preparing to clear out the Red Shirt protesters — an action that would risk more bloodshed. But the prime minister gave no time frame. Police with riot gear and armed soldiers remained deployed near the protest site Monday, but there was no sign of increased security or preparations for action.

Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd, spokesman for the government’s Center for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation, told reporters earlier Monday that the authorities were ready to use armored cars during any crackdown in order to protect security forces who could be facing armed protesters. The last time the army tried to clear the streets, on April 10, mysterious masked men in black opened fire on the soldiers, killing a senior officer and wounding several others.

Speaking to foreign reporters Sunday at a closely guarded military camp on the city’s outskirts, Mr. Abhisit said the demonstrators, who include a large number of women and children, would be given prior warning of any move by security forces to shift them.

“I can say that we continue to exercise restraint and patience and the first, best solution is one that does not involve violence,” he said.

Mr. Abhisit flagged his road map to solve the political crisis at a parliamentary session on Monday, where senators voiced criticism for both the government — for allowing the crisis to drag on this far — and the hostile tactics of the Red Shirts. Several senators called for a political solution, agreeing that enough blood has been spilled, and urged both sides to meet in the middle.

“The government should not rule out parliamentary dissolution and the Red Shirts should be open to negotiations,” said Sen. Sitthana Yingthaweelapa.

Associated Press Writers Denis D. Gray and Grant Peck contributed to this report.

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