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Thai gov't offers talks if protesters abide by law

Thai gov't offers talks if protesters abide by law
Thai gov't offers talks if protesters abide by law
Thai gov't offers talks if protesters abide by law

Thailand's prime minister is ready to negotiate with protesters seeking a change of government, but only when the demonstrators who have illegally occupied city streets agree to abide by the law, his spokesman said Wednesday.
"The attempt to negotiate has been ongoing, but the official talks can't proceed as long as the demonstration remains unlawful. The current atmosphere doesn't provide room for talks to move forward," government spokesman Panitan Wattanyagorn said.
While the main standoff in central Bangkok between anti-government protesters and security forces remained tense but mainly peaceful Wednesday, there were several signs of the potential for disorder to spread.
Unknown attackers fired one or two rocket-propelled grenades at a fuel depot near Bangkok's main airport early Wednesday morning, punching a hole in a large tank containing aviation fuel, and starting a small fire that was put out before causing much more damage.
In the northeastern province of Khon Kaen, anti-government protesters were reported to have blocked a train carrying military equipment.
According to the website of the Bangkok Post, some 200 of the so-called Red Shirt protesters blocked a train carrying military vehicles, which they claimed were headed for Bangkok.
The protesters consist mainly of poor rural supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and pro-democracy activists who opposed the military coup that ousted him in 2006. They want Abhisit to dissolve Parliament right away and call new elections.
They believe Abhisit's government is illegitimate because it came to power through a parliamentary vote _ not a general election _ after disputed court rulings ousted two elected, pro-Thaksin administrations. The conflict has been characterized by some as class warfare, pitting the country's vast rural poor against an elite that has traditionally held power.
Protesters occupying Bangkok's main shopping district fortified their encampment Wednesday with tire barricades and homemade armaments including bamboo spears and wooden shields, while soldiers and riot police stood guard nearby.
Hotels and retailers in the protest zone, which spans about 1.8 square miles (3 square kilometers) say the rallies have cost tens of millions of dollars in losses. Several five-star hotels in the area have announced they will be closed for the rest of the week and have relocated guests to safer hotels. Upscale shopping malls situated in the middle of the protest have been shut for weeks.
No new clashes were reported as the Red Shirts, who have occupied Bangkok's streets for more than five weeks, abandoned plans to march into the central business district after soldiers in full combat gear were garrisoned there to bar the way.
Panitan said violent elements linked to the protesters are a particular sticking point for any talks to proceed. When the army tried to sweep protesters from one of their encampments on April 10, masked men with military weapons fought back, helping to trigger fierce street fighting that left 25 people dead and more than 800 wounded.
"The situation has changed now that violence has occurred and terrorism has been involved," said Panitan. "In order for talks to happen, the protesters have to first stop the movements that are linked to terrorism. They have to show that they are under the law."
"The most important point is the protesters should have a firm standpoint," he added. "We don't know what they want to do really."
Key protest leader Nattawut Saikua earlier indicated the demonstrators were open to negotiations to end the confrontations and chaos in the city, which is taking a toll on the economy as well as residents' patience.
"Our group is always open to outside suggestions. Whatever group wants to propose a solution to the crisis, we're happy to hear these solutions," Nattawut said.
However, the Red Shirts have issued contradictory statements about their willingness to talk. Two days of televised talks held several weeks ago between Abhisit and protest leaders failed to find any common ground.
Associated Press writers Jocelyn Gecker, Grant Peck and Denis D. Gray contributed to this report.

Updated : 2021-10-16 06:42 GMT+08:00