Thai govt in emergency meeting over Red Shirts

Thailand's cabinet held an emergency meeting Sunday after a warning that its long-running standoff with anti-government "Red Shirts" in Bangkok could deteriorate into an "undeclared civil war."

Thai govt in emergency meeting over Red Shirts


Thailand's cabinet held an emergency meeting Sunday after a warning that its long-running standoff with anti-government "Red Shirts" in Bangkok could deteriorate into an "undeclared civil war."

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said in his weekly television address that the meeting at a military base would focus on rules of engagement for security forces, but sought to reassure the public he had a plan to defuse the crisis.

"I have already decided what steps to take, but I need to make sure it will be successful and have the least negative effect as possible," Abhisit said.

"I have to make sure that it will be a sustainable solution. It will take time, but there will be effective measures," he added.

"After I do all of this, I will announce what I have decided to do about demands for parliament's dissolution."

"Plan on tensions"

Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayakorn said afterwards that Abhisit had come up with a plan to ease tensions, which would be clarified next week. In the meantime, the authorities would continue trying to persuade protesters to leave.

"The government will send text messages to protesters to tell them about the situation and is hoping they will return home," Panitan told reporters.

But the red-shirted supporters of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra who are demanding early elections, said they were staying put, although they agreed to pull back a barrier around 200 metres to give cars access to a big hospital.

Asked by reporters if Abhisit had accepted that, Nattawut Saikua, a protest leader, said: "That's Abhisit's problem. If he wants to do anything, we're prepared for that."

Amid speculation martial law could be imposed to clear the protesters, who have forced ritzy shopping malls and luxury hotels to close, Abhisit appeared to rule that out, saying "this instrument is not needed".

However, under a state of emergency declared in the capital on April 7, the security forces already have wide-ranging powers.

"Police action"

Some army commanders, including army chief Anupong Paochinda, are reluctant to use force because of the inevitable bloodshed. On some evenings, tens of thousands of protesters gather in the occupied shopping district, women and children amongst them.

Anupong has called for a political solution, but hopes of a deal faded when British-born Abhisit rejected a red shirt proposal for an election in three months.

On Saturday, army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said the government had ordered police to retake the area around Chulalongkorn Hospital, near the Silom business district, to ensure public safety, using force if necessary.

The red shirt demonstrators caused outrage when about 200 of them barged into the hospital grounds on Thursday, looking for soldiers they thought were there preparing an attack.

Their leaders apologised and removed part of the barricade in the area to allow better access to the hospital. They moved the barricade back further on Sunday to let traffic flow to and from several hospital entrances.

But this appears to have been their only concession and red shirt leader Nattawut said that, as part of the deal, police had even agreed to help reinforce the barrier once it was moved away from the hospital.

"We've agreed with police that we'll bring concrete blocks to close off the area. I've asked police to help carry them there for us and police are OK to do it."

There were several thousand demonstrators at the rally site on Sunday afternoon. Numbers typically swell into the evening. There were no more police than normal and no attempt to dislodge the protesters, Reuters reporters said.

"Eighth week"


The protest rally is now in its eighth week in the capital and the authorities have found no way to disperse it without the risk of serious casualties.

One bungled attempt to dislodge them from another part of Bangkok on April 10 ended with 25 people dead and more than 800 wounded.

Another person died in still-unexplained grenade attacks on the Silom business district on April 22 and a soldier died in skirmishes on a suburban highway on April 28.

The fault lines are widening between the establishment -- big business, aristocrats, the military brass and the middle class -- and the protesters drawn from the rural and urban poor.

Thaksin lives abroad to escape a jail sentence handed down for corruption.


Agencies

Last Mod: 02 Mayıs 2010, 15:16
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