Thai PM sticks with peace plan despite new violence
Bangkok: Tai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Sunday he would not abandon efforts to find a peaceful solution to a two-month-old political crisis despite renewed violence in Bangkok that took the death toll to 29.
"Red shirt" protesters have been demonstrating in the capital since mid-March and have set up camp in an upmarket shopping area since April 3, forcing sleek malls and luxury hotels to close.
"No matter how the political situation evolves, I affirm that the government will stick to the reconciliation plan and we have already started the process. I would like to ask the Thai people to join us," Abhisit said in a weekly televised address.
But he said the violence must stop if his plan was to work and there would be no early election if the unrest continued.
"All parties have to cooperate and there should be no violence. If we can do that, the election will happen. If not, it won`t happen," he said.
Abhisit put forward his plan to end the rally on May 3 but it remains in limbo as talks drag on over the details, including an election he says could be held on November 14, just over a year before one has to be called.
The "red shirts" want him to set a precise date for dissolving parliament and want input into any constitutional changes, among other demands.
Two policemen were killed and 13 people wounded in gun and grenade attacks in the latest violence linked to the protests, which have crippled Bangkok and scared off tourists.
The "red shirt" protesters denied involvement in the attacks, which will add to pressure on Abhisit from the Bangkok middle classes and elite to take a tougher line with the protesters.
Police and the state-run Erawan Medical Center said the first policeman was killed by a gunman on a motorcycle in a drive-by shooting just before midnight on Friday, and the second in a series of suspected grenade blasts around two hours later.
The attacks took place in the Silom Road area of the capital guarded by soldiers and packed with offices, hotels and bars popular with tourists. The area is close to an entrance into the fortified encampment held by the protesters.
A hospital official said 13 people were wounded in the violence, three soldiers, seven police and three civilians. They included two "multicolored" protesters among several dozen who had gathered to voice their opposition to the "red shirts."
The temperature had been cooling after a week of calm following Abhisit`s reconciliation plan.
The movement`s leaders said they were committed to the plan and were working on their own proposals, which could be ready in a few days, but certainly by May 15.
The "red shirts," drawn mainly from the rural and urban poor, support ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by the military in 2006. They say the ruling coalition lacks a popular mandate after coming to power in a parliamentary vote 17 months ago they claim was orchestrated by the military.
Thousands remain in the 3 sq km (1.2 sq mile) camp, the numbers generally dwinding to one or two thousand overnight and growing during the day.
They have said they would bring in more supporters to help defend the camp if the troops surrounding them attempt a crackdown, and the Bangkok Post said around 5,000 arrived from northern strongholds on Saturday.
Abhisit ordered a tightening of security in the area after a meeting on Saturday with Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban and the government`s crisis control group, the Center for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES).
"CRES believe there are a group of people who don`t want the protest to stop," government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn told reporters.
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