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Hope in Thailand, with both sides 'ready to talk'

Publication Date : 02-03-2014


A glimmer of hope for compromise has emerged in Thailand, with a pause for talks between warring political factions on the cards


Somchai Srisuthiyakorn, an election commissioner involved in setting up a dialogue between the ruling Puea Thai party and the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) which is determined to drive the government out of office, was reportedly engineering talks for this week.

"I believe both sides now want to sit at the table," the Bangkok Post quoted him as saying on Saturday.

The government should see the PDRC's dismantling of rally sites in downtown Bangkok as a concession, he added.

However, there remains scepticism over prospective talks, and battle lines remain drawn, with the powerful army still reluctant to step into the fray.

The PDRC intends to dismantle its rally sites at major intersections and consolidate them tomorrow at one site in the sprawling Lumpini Park, downtown Bangkok's green lung. This means the upscale retail districts of Pathumwan, Rachaprasong and Asoke will be free of the anti-government protests which have seen increasingly violent incidents in the past week, setting the city on edge.

Analysts say the falling numbers of protesters at rally sites - thought to have sunk in recent days below 5,000 even at peak times - as well as almost nightly gun and grenade attacks, prompted the move.

PDRC spokesman Akanat Promphan admitted that security was one of the issues. The site at Lumpini Park - which has a well defined boundary - was easier to manage, he said.

But he also insisted the PDRC was not backing down.

"We want to consolidate, and rejuvenate our supporters so we can increase the pressure," said Oxford-educated Akanat, who is a stepson of PDRC leader Suthep Thaugsuban. "Our objectives have been achieved, we have pinned down the government."

But while he ruled out ending the protest altogether, he also acknowledged "public pressure to negotiate".

However, a co-leader of the movement, controversial monk Luang Pu Buddha Issara, has so far refused to dismantle his rally site at Chaeng Wattana, close to a government complex.

Meanwhile pro-government red shirts gathered in strength in Udon Thani province in the northeast on Saturday, with another gathering due in Kalasin province today.

"This is a show of force, to signal that we will not tolerate the removal of (caretaker prime minister) Yingluck Shinawatra by any means at all," a red shirt insider with links to militants, told The Sunday Times, asking not to be named.

Militant red shirt groups were armed and recruiting, he said. But they operated in cells with no centralised command, he warned.

"There is no control," he said. "But they know they cannot fight the PDRC empty-handed because the PDRC has its own armed militants."

Embattled Yingluck last week left Bangkok to tour the north and north-east - the ruling party's strongholds. In some of the strongest remarks she has made throughout this crisis - when she has been mostly conciliatory and in retreat - she told reporters on Friday that she was ready to "die on the democratic battlefield".

On Saturday, caretaker deputy prime minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul told reporters that he appreciated Suthep freeing up the streets, but "he still can't defeat the government. If he continues fighting, he will do more harm to himself".


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