Thai protesters want Parliament dissolved in month
BANGKOK (AP) - Protesters softened their demand for an immediate change in Thailand's government, saying they are willing to give the prime minister 30 days to dissolve Parliament and call new elections, after bloody attacks struck Bangkok's central business district.
Five grenades struck an elevated train station and a street where rival protesters had gathered to hurl insults and rocks at the Red Shirts, whose occupation of parts of the capital for six weeks has paralyzed business and daily life in the city.
The attacks late Thursday killed one person and wounded 86, and the heated passions of the rival protesters have raised fears of escalating vigilante-type violence.
Jaran Ditthapichai, a Red Shirt leader, said his group held unofficial talks with the government on Wednesday and Friday. He claimed the government privately expressed a willingness to compromise, suggesting it could dissolve the government in three months instead of the six on which it originally insisted.
He said the proposal for a 30-day deadline - instead of immediately - was offered to try to avoid new violence.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva did not respond directly when asked by reporters about the offer. He said that what was most important now was everybody should abide by the law.
"I just want to say that I will not stay on if I don't mean to solve the problem," he said. "Currently, I believe that I grieve as everybody does. And I intend to solve the problem."
The Red Shirt statement does not categorically say the group will give up its protest if Parliament is dissolved by the deadline, but rather that it would be willing to negotiate with the government if three conditions are met. The government has up to 60 days to hold an election after dissolving Parliament
However, another protest leader, Veera Musikapong, said, "If the government accepts and is open to the talks, we are ready to disperse to restore peace in the country."
The other conditions are for the government to stop harassing the group, and to hold an impartial investigation of violence that has marred the protests, including a government sweep on April 10 to oust the Red Shirts that resulted in 25 deaths and more than 800 injuries.
The Red Shirts consist mainly of rural supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and pro-democracy activists who opposed the military coup that ousted him in 2006.
They believe Vejjajiva's government is illegitimate because it came to power under military pressure through a parliamentary vote after disputed court rulings ousted two elected pro-Thaksin governments.
The Red Shirt opponents include workers inconvenienced by the demonstrations and members of the Yellow Shirts, who oppose Thaksin's return to power and who themselves staged protests in Bangkok two years ago, seizing the city's airports and prime minister's offices. The group staged a big rally in another part of Bangkok on Friday afternoon.
The latest development between the government and the Red Shirts inspired guarded optimism that more violence could be avoided.
"At least, this is better than before. Here is a chance that the crisis won't end with blood," said Prinya Thewanaruemitkul, a law lecturer at Bangkok's Thammasat University. "It might seem both sides won't compromise, but there is a path leading toward a timeframe they could mutually agree upon."
Much of Bangkok's central business district was paralyzed Friday. Many banks, offices, restaurants and a major shopping complex were closed along Silom Road, the key downtown artery and a popular tourist strip.
The perpetrators are not known; the government stopped short of directly blaming the Red Shirts, saying only that the grenades were fired from an area where they are encamped. The protesters have denied involvement.