New Thai violence kills 2, mars compromise moves
Hopes for an end to Thailand`s political crisis diminished following a new eruption of violence.
Bangkok: Hopes for an end to Thailand`s political crisis diminished Saturday following a new eruption of violence that killed two policemen and wounded 13 people in double nighttime attacks.
The attacks came after the so-called Red Shirt movement signaled that they were in general agreement with a government reconciliation plan and might soon end the protracted demonstrations that have shut down much of Bangkok`s commercial district.
The protest movement denied involvement in the latest attacks and indicated that its occupation would continue while it sought a deal with the government, saying the two were not mutually exclusive.
"No matter who and whatever is trying to obstruct us, we will carry on our protest (in central Bangkok)," Weng Tojirakarn, a protest leader, said Saturday.
The protesters say they agree in principle with a proposal by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to dissolve Parliament and hold new polls — their key demands — but want more specific details and assurance that Abhisit has the full support of his coalition partners and other political actors.
"One mouth speaks of reconciliation while the other 99 mouths keep talking about cracking down," Weng said.
He called on the government to revoke emergency decrees that give the military powers to restore order and that ban public gatherings.
As Weng spoke, a long column of pickup trucks loaded with protesters arrived from northeastern Thailand to reinforce the Red Shirt "occupation zone."
Late Friday night, the sense of relative calm that had prevailed for several days was broken by a mysterious incident near where grenades exploded on April 22, killing one person and wounding several others. The area, close to an encampment of the protesters, is guarded by many police and soldiers.
A witness, Decha Phoonpanang, said either a small explosive or gunshots whizzed past him, shattering the glass storefront of a bank and hitting two policemen — one in the stomach — and a man in the leg.
Slightly more than two hours later, about three explosions could be heard in an adjacent street that fronts a park, with police officers saying they believed them to be grenades.
The official Erawan Emergency Center on Saturday said two policemen were killed in the two incidents. Most of those wounded were believed to be police.
Red Shirt leaders denied involvement in the attacks and urged that security forces be withdrawn from the streets since they only served as "lightning rods" for those trying to provoke violence.
Other activists who oppose the Red Shirts have denounced the government`s peace offering as a capitulation and demanded that Abhisit clear their encampments or step down.
Some factions on all sides oppose a settlement, making it difficult to pinpoint an obvious suspect in the new violence.
The nearly two-month standoff in Bangkok has hammered the economy, decimated the tourist industry and ground government machinery to a near halt. Clashes with soldiers and other violence have killed 29 people and wounded nearly 1,000.
Abhisit unveiled a proposal that included new elections on Nov. 14 — about a year before his term would end — if the protesters left their encampment in the heart of the Thai capital. The Parliament must be dissolved at least 45 days before the elections.
The plan includes respect for the monarchy, reforms to resolve economic injustice, media reforms, independent investigations of violence connected with the protests, and amending the constitution to be more fair to all political parties.
But the date of the dissolution of Parliament has since become a sticking point, with the Red Shirts insisting it be specified and Abhisit saying only it would happen in time for the November election, but possibly as early as September. No date would be fixed if the Red Shirts did not agree to the plan, the prime minister has said.
The timing is a crucial issue because a key reshuffle of top military posts is scheduled for September, and the protesters don`t want Abhisit at the helm then. It`s not clear if a caretaker government, which would run the country after Parliament is dissolved, would be allowed to make the appointments.
The military holds tremendous power in Thailand, and the Red Shirts, who draw most of their supporters from the rural and urban poor, view Abhisit`s government as the illegitimate product of back-room deals and military pressure on legislators.
The protest group includes supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted in a 2006 military coup following accusations of corruption and abuse of power.