Thai red shirts refuse to back down despite PM's reconciliation plan

Thai red shirt protesters met with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Tuesday, who offered to hold parliamentary elections in November. Protest leaders say they will not end their Bangkok occupation unless elections are held by September.

By , Correspondent

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    Leaders of anti-government red shirt protesters, Veera Musikapong, third left, is flanked by Weng Tojirakarn, left, Jatuporn Prompan, second left, and Nattawut Saigua, fourth left, while reading a statement at a protesting ground in downtown Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday.
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Thailand’s violent protests appeared closer to peaceful resolution after anti-government demonstrators agreed to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s five-point reconciliation plan. Despite the agreement reached Tuesday, the Red Shirt protesters are refusing to call off demonstrations.

Some 30 protest leaders met Tuesday night with Abhisit's government to begin the negotiations. They later told supporters that they had not asked for amnesty, only that justice be served, reports The Times of London.

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But among many points of contention, the "red shirts" are upset about the Nov. 14 election date the agreement sets forth. The protesters want representatives in power by September, which is when a new budget is passed and the military is reorganized. The "red shirts" – so-called for the color of clothing they wear, formed the political party the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) in 2006.

Al Jazeera reports that both sides will likely put up tough negotiations. Presently, protesters complain that Mr. Vejjajiva’s proposal has has too many “get out clauses.”

“We are suspicious about the timeframe, which is within the power of the election commission and not the prime minister,” Veera Musikapong, UDD chairman, told supporters at a protest site, reports Al Jazeera.

The sticking points are contentious enough that Asia News International reports many protesters are “unconvinced about the government’s unity and sincerity in offering a roadmap.” Most importantly, the group wants a firm date for when the parliament will be dissolved.

At the earliest, elections could happen in mid-June or early July, as Thai law requires the prime minister to dissolve parliament at least 45 to 60 days before an election. Additionally, the prime minister’s proposal required that both sides commit to continued support of the monarchy and to prevent the royals from being drawn into the political feud, reports Deutsche Presse-Agentur.

Although negotiations began Tuesday, protest leaders say that it could be at least a month before the UDD dismantles its camp in central Bangkok. Their eight-week occupation and ongoing clashes with police have hurt the country’s tourism sector, crimped the downtown area’s shopping district, killed 27 people, and injured at least 1,000 more.

But little progress in ending the standoff was expected today, as Thais celebrate the anniversary of the crowning of their king.

In the last two months, the demonstrations have cost the nation $2.2 billion and nearly 50 countries have advised their citizens not to visit Thailand until calm returns, reports the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The return of normality may still be a ways off, as the elections could create new problems.

“It could actually exacerbate the confrontation and .... it could end up in the same vicious cycle," Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political science professor at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, told ABC News. “Whoever wins, the losers will not accept and there will be accusations of fraud and so on.”

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