Home International Thai premier meets protesters, hopes to ease tensions

Thai premier meets protesters, hopes to ease tensions


Bangkok : Thailand’s prime minister and the leaders of anti-government protests started face-to-face talks Sunday in an effort to defuse political tensions that turned violent on the weekend.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, along with representatives of his government, met with leaders of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD). They greeted each other warmly just before the meeting at 4 p.m. Sunday (0900 GMT) at the King Prajadhipok Institute on the outskirts of Bangkok.

No one knew what to expect of the meeting, which is the first between Abhisit and the UDD leaders – often called red shirts – since they started street protests March 12.

Demonstrators who had massed outside the 11th Infantry Regiment compound in Bangkok to pressure Abhisit to resign and call new elections were called back to the main protest area in the old part of the city, UDD leader Nattwuth Saikuer said.

Before dawn Sunday, unknown assailants fired two grenades that wounded at least four soldiers at the base.

Abhisit, who has set up temporary offices at the 11th Regiment, had said he willing to negotiate, but not under duress. On Sunday, he agreed to meet with protest leaders, the government-run Thai News Agency reported.

The talks would be broadcast live on television, Prime Minister’s Office Minister Sathit Wongnongtoey said.

The government will also speed up an investigation into the attack at the army base, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said.

The early morning attack followed several grenade attacks in other parts of Bangkok on Saturday night, including one at the state-owned NBT television station, which wounded at least four people, local media reported.

Four others were wounded in a grenade attack on Channel 5 television, which is run by the army. Another grenade exploded at the Customs Department.

Suthep said the government Saturday had redeployed army soldiers from eight high-risk parts of town back to their barracks, to avoid confrontation with anti-government protesters.

The protesters massed in Bangkok March 12 and their numbers have swelled to nearly 100,000 on some days, but most of the time have numbered in the tens of thousands, at most.

The government has imposed a security act in Bangkok and two surrounding provinces, which puts crowd control under the military and allows the government to bar protests in certain sensitive spots.

Thaksin Shinawatra, the fugitive former premier who was ousted by a coup in 2006 and is now one of the UDD’s key ringleaders, has urged his followers to step up protests in Bangkok and the provinces in phoned-in messages to their rallies from abroad.

Thaksin is based in Dubai, avoiding a two-year prison sentence on a conviction of abusing power as prime minister.