Thai PM offers poll compromise

15Jan

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has told protesters he will call polls before his term ends but he refused to meet their 15-day deadline, leading to stalemate after a second day of talks.

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The televised negotiations, aimed at ending weeks of disruptive rallies in Bangkok by supporters of deposed premier Thaksin Shinawatra, lasted two hours, with Abhisit offering the three Red Shirt representatives a compromise deal.

Abhisit said he was willing to call elections as early as the year’s end, one year ahead of their due date in December 2011, but the two sides parted without agreement, with the premier offering fresh discussions on Thursday.

Red shirts mull offer

The Red Shirts said they would discuss whether to take up that offer.

“If you want my government… to call an election before our term has ended, no problem. But we have to talk…” Abhisit told the Red Shirt leaders.

“I have one year and nine months left, I want to see the economy improving, I want to see the rules of conduct and atmosphere in this country improving,” he later added.

The red-dressed movement says the government is elitist and undemocratic because the six-party coalition came to power on the back of a parliamentary vote after a controversial court ruling ousted Thaksin’s allies from power.

Rural supporters

The group, supported mainly by Thailand’s poor rural population, first gathered two weeks ago in the capital’s government quarter, laying open again the country’s wide social chasm following months of rival street campaigns.

Abhisit said that before any vote he wanted to hold a referendum on changes to the military-backed constitution that was brought in following the 2006 coup that ousted Thaksin from power, and which the Red Shirts oppose.

“Let’s just say that the government is turning down our demand and that we refuse the government’s offer,” said Red Shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan following Abhisit’s proposal, although both sides appeared relaxed throughout the discussions, following tense talks on Sunday.

Bombs thrown

While the discussions were taking place, two small homemade bombs were thrown at Government House, where Abhisit usually works, but they caused no injuries. Police said they would investigate.

The Reds’ populist political icon, former telecoms tycoon Thaksin, has egged on his supporters with near-daily speeches by videolink. He currently lives in Dubai to avoid a jail sentence for corruption.

The Reds began rallying on March 14 after a court ruling seized 1.4 billion dollars of Thaksin’s fortune.

About 80,000 Red Shirts rallied on Saturday and forced troops to retreat from security posts in the heart of Bangkok. But police said only 16,000 protesters remained at their rally ground on Monday.

‘Bloody’ protest

The Reds have staged a series of dramatic stunts in their bid to force Abhisit out, picketing the army barracks where he is holed up and throwing their own blood at his office gates.

Abhisit had ruled out talks while the protesters remained on the streets, but changed his mind on Sunday, a move analysts said might hint at a weakening of his support by the establishment.

While the demonstrations have passed peacefully, security forces have taken few chances, putting a 50,000-strong force on the streets and using a strict security law to police the rallies.

Security extension

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said the cabinet would decide on Tuesday whether to extend again the Internal Security Act in Bangkok and two neighbouring provinces. It is due to expire on Tuesday.

Suthep said the law, which allows authorities to set up checkpoints, impose curfews and limit movement, could also be enforced to cover a regional summit being held at the weekend on the Thai coast to discuss Mekong river flows.

The capital was hit late Sunday by the latest in a series of minor explosions at politically significant sites and army buildings, in which more than a dozen people have been hurt.

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