Thai government says protests must end before talksMay 18th, 2010 - 8:20 pm ICT by IANS
Bangkok, May 18 (DPA) The Thai government Tuesday insisted that anti-government protesters end their demonstration before it would consider peace talks, despite an immediate offer by the Senate to mediate in negotiations.
Tuesday morning, the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) leader Nattawut Saikua said they had accepted an offer by Senate Speaker Prasobsuk Boondej to act as a mediator with the government.
“We are ready to join the negotiations right now,” Nattawut said, addressing thousands of UDD followers at Ratchaprasong Road in the centre of Bangkok, where the protesters have erected barricades against government troops.
The government, however, did not respond positively to the Senate’s offer.
Prime Minister’s Office Minister Sathit Wongnongtoey said in a televised statement that while the government appreciated Prasobsuk’s offer to mediate, it would only negotiate with the UDD after it ends its protest.
Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn added that the government would continue its operation to end the demonstration, which has led to fierce street fighting in Bangkok over the past five days leaving 37 dead and 279 wounded.
Thursday, the military began trying to force the protestors out of the commercial district they have occupied since April 3.
By Friday, troops had cordoned off the 3-square-km zone, but were attacked from the outside as the insurrection spread to other neighbourhoods over the weekend.
The conflict has transformed the centre of Bangkok into a war zone, with certain streets becoming free-fire areas.
The government’s emergency command centre launched the offensive on Ratchaprasong after the UDD essentially rejected a peace proposal offered by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva May 3.
The UDD has been protesting in Bangkok since March 12, demanding that Abhisit dissolve parliament and hold new elections.
After a series of clashes that claimed 29 lives in April, Abhisit agreed to hold a new election November 14 and launch a reconciliation process on the condition that the UDD end the protest.
Members of UDD initially welcomed Abhisit’s proposal, but negotiations fell apart due to infighting within the protest leadership, and the street battles resumed.
After five days of bloodshed in the most recent clashes, it appears that both sides are seeking negotiations behind the scenes.
“The signs are better,” political analyst Gothom Areeya said. “The first thing both sides need to agree upon is to stop the shooting, or at least to agree to keep 500 metres distance between the troops and the protestors.”
In addition to the Senate’s proposal to mediate, political insiders said that UDD chairman Veera Musigkapong was holding talks behind the scenes with Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaungsuban.
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