Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 April 2014

Thai PM hints at protests crackdown

Pro-government supporters wave flags at a rally in Bangkok (AP)

The chances of a negotiated settlement of Thailand's two-month political stand-off looked bleak as the prime minister said he would no longer offer protesters a compromise, including an early election.

The government spokesman said prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has now issued instructions for quickly dealing with the so-called Red Shirt demonstrators who are occupying a central commercial district in Bangkok to press their demands.

Asked whether this implied a new crackdown by security forces, spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said on Tuesday night: "The prime minister has already handed out some guidelines. Tomorrow they will be implemented."

The protests have paralysed a central portion of Bangkok that is home to several glitzy malls and luxury hotels, devastating the economy, particularly the vital tourism sector.

Last week Mr Abhisit told the Red Shirts - mostly poor rural Thais who view his government as illegitimate - that he was willing to hold new polls in November, more than a year before the end of his government's term.

That was presented as part of a reconciliation package if the demonstrators would end their protest and seen as the way out of the crisis.

The Red Shirts, who have been pressing for quick elections, said they agreed in principle, but gradually added a list of conditions of their own including that Mr Abhisit and his top deputy surrender to police over an April 10 attempt by security forces to disperse protesters that left 25 people dead.

"If petty issues keep being brought up, it's not going to end because the government isn't going to compromise," Mr Abhisit told reporters, adding that people's patience with the demonstrators had frayed due to the hardships and losses they had suffered.

"What is essential right now is to return normalcy to society," he said.

Mr Panitan said the initial conditional election offer had now been withdrawn. "Their refusal to stop the protest meant that the conditions that were set are being cancelled, including the election date," he said.

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