Page last updated at 13:23 GMT, Friday, 23 April 2010 14:23 UK

Thai red-shirts offer conditional talks with government

Soldiers in the Thai capital on 23 April 2010
Soldiers and protesters have been facing off in parts of the Thai capital

Thailand's red-shirt protesters have issued a conditional offer of talks with the government, amid protests that have paralysed parts of Bangkok.

The red-shirts said that parliament had to be dissolved in one month - a change from their previous call for immediate dissolution and elections.

They also called for an investigation into recent violence and an end to harassment of protesters.

The red-shirts have been occupying parts of Bangkok for six weeks.

Their encampment, in Bangkok's shopping district, stretches south to the business district, where protesters have built large barricades.

On Thursday, one person was killed and more than 80 injured in grenade attacks near their barricades.

'Show responsibility'

The conditional offer of talks was made by red-shirt leader Veera Musikapong.

"If the government says it will dissolve the House within 30 days, it is negotiable," he said.

Rachel Harvey
Rachel Harvey, BBC News, Bangkok

Since the grenades last night, there has been a sense of how combustible this situation has become. Things have been on a knife edge in the past few days but both sides have realised that it is time to make one last effort to step back from the brink.

In the background there have been other bodies - academics, human rights organisations, some politicians - who have been trying to come up with some way to get the two sides back to the negotiating table. The problem has been that because of the recent violence and bloodshed there is very little trust on either side.

It looks now as if the anti-government protesters have made the first offer. We wait for the government response. The other factor is those protesters who might not want a dissolution of parliament.

We've begun to see several thousand people out calling for the anti-government protesters to cease their demonstrations and for the government to hold firm.

"After the House dissolution, the government will have another 60 days to prepare for elections. In total it will be 90 days.

"But the government has to stop threatening people and show responsibility for what has happened."

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has already offered to hold elections by the end of 2010, a year ahead of schedule.

The BBC's Rachel Harvey says that after days of increased tension, bloodshed and rampant speculation, the first signs of possible compromise have emerged.

The reds' proposal came shortly after the army commander-in-chief, Gen Anupong Paojinda, told his commanders he would not use force to evict the protesters.

Deputy army spokesman Colonel Sirichan Ngathong said Gen Anupong thought the use of force would "not end the current problems and would have many repercussions".

"The best thing is to create understanding among the people. The army's job now is to take care of the people, and not allow Thais to attack each other," Col Sirichan reported the general as saying.

A failed crackdown on 10 April left 25 people dead and hundreds injured. Since then tensions have risen steadily, with the Thai capital increasingly choked by the protests.

The government said grenades launched from a southern corner of Bangkok's Lumpini Park, which is behind the red-shirts' main barricade, had caused Thursday night's explosions.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said they had been the work of "the terrorists that the government has always been wanting to get rid off".

14 Mar: Red-shirts converge on Bangkok, hold first big rally, occupy government district
16 Mar: Protesters splash their own blood at Government House
30 Mar: A round of talks with the government ends in deadlock
3 Apr: Red-shirts occupy Bangkok shopping district
7 Apr: PM Abhisit orders state of emergency
10 Apr: Troops try to clear protesters; 25 people are killed and hundreds injured
22 Apr: Grenade blasts kill one and injure 85 near protest hub; each side blames the other

Red-shirt leaders have denied all responsibility for the explosions, saying they were not in the business of hurting innocent people.

Meanwhile, about 5,000 people have joined a separate demonstration in the historic district of the capital.

The group, wearing brightly coloured clothing, say they want to see an end to the red-shirts' hold over the capital. Many were wearing yellow, the colour which symbolises the country's revered king.

"We love this country. We love the king. We want peace back," said Dr Tul Sittisomwong, a rally organiser.

"In the past we kept quiet but now we are standing up to bring peace back to the country," he told the AFP news agency.


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