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Page last updated at 11:50 GMT, Wednesday, 12 May 2010 12:50 UK

Thailand PM gives 'final word' to defiant red-shirts

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The red-shirts have refused to move from their Bangkok camps

The Thai government has told red-shirt protesters it might begin cutting off supplies to their Bangkok camps if they do not pack up and go home immediately.

Officials say Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has cancelled an earlier proposal to hold November elections but that reconciliation remains an option.

Mr Abhisit has threatened tough actions before and not followed through, since a failed, fatal crackdown on 10 April.

The red-shirts have again expressed defiance, saying they will not move.

Korbsak Sabhavasu, the prime minister's secretary-general, told the Thai Public Broadcasting Service that the election date set in the peace deal that appeared feasible on the weekend is now cancelled.

"The proposed date for election is called off but we will go forward with reconciliation plan," Mr Korbsak said.

With positions apparently hardening, and earlier peace plans unravelling, the armed forces have stressed they will "not use force at this stage".

Protesters blame the government for the deaths of 19 protesters, one journalist and five soldiers in the 10 April crackdown.

Defiance

The protesters - a loose coalition of left-wing activists, democracy campaigners and supporters of ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra - say the government is illegitimate because it came to power through a parliamentary deal rather than an election.

If the government wants to take any more lives, they can come and get them here
Red-shirt leader Nattawut Saikuar

They began their protest on 14 March, demanding fresh elections. Now after days of debate on whether and how to agree to government plans, the red-shirts' opposition to any move is united.

"We have made a decision to continue to call for justice for our people here," said one of the red-shirt leaders, Nattawut Saikuar.

"If the government wants to take any more lives, they can come and get them here."

"If you want to crack down you're welcome at any time," said another red-shirt leader, Jatuporn Prompan. "We will fight to the death," he said.

A third leader said Mr Abhisit must not to "threaten us and must not disperse us".

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban arrives at the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) office on 11 March 2010
Protesters blame Deputy PM Suthep for the 10 April deaths

"If he wants more deaths, so be it. I don't," said Dr Weng Tojirakarn.

But the red-shirts' demand that Mr Suthep be charged for the 10 April deaths appeared to be a step too far for the government.

"The authorities must implement steps to make protesters suffer and leave the protest site," said Sirichoke Sopa, a ruling party lawmaker who is close to Mr Abhisit.

"The roadmap still exists, but their demand for Suthep to turn himself in to police is not possible and not practical because he's a political appointee," he said.

The BBC's Rachel Harvey in Bangkok says the government's ultimatum comes after a period of relative calm in the long and bitter dispute.

Our correspondent says that it now seems that the government has decided it is time for the bargaining to stop.

'Take measures'

Mr Abhisit revealed his impatience in a speech to parliament on Tuesday night, and his armed forces commander reiterated the warnings of a protest clearance on Wednesday morning.

Mr Abhisit told reporters the cabinet had decided on Tuesday that the security forces needed to "take measures" quickly.

RED-SHIRT PROTEST
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
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
3 May: PM Abhisit offers reconciliation plan and polls on 14 November

"This may affect people in the area, not just protesters but also people who work there and people who live there," he said.

"So we ask that the protesters make a gesture by going home tomorrow. Other issues can be discussed later if they are sincere about reconciliation."

"If they do not leave by today, the measures will begin," said armed forces spokesman Col Sansern Kaewkamnerd.

"The measures will start at midnight tonight, including the cutting off of power, water and telephones."

Infrastructure including buses, trains and the city's important waterway transport system would be disrupted and food supplies blocked, he said.

Thousands of protesters have been camped out in Bangkok for two months, occupying major thoroughfares in the centre of the city, closing shops and hotels.

Several elite schools are within the red-shirt camp and their term is supposed to begin next week.

The camp has its own generators and fuel supplies, and stockpiles of both drinking and washing water.

On Monday night, the red-shirts announced they had accepted Mr Abhisit's offer of elections on 14 November but that they would not go home until the deputy prime minister surrendered to police.

Mr Suthep was in charge of security operations on 10 April, when 25 people - including five soldiers - were killed in a failed attempt to disperse protesters.



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