Thai PM says he will find political solution to Red Shirt problem

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said today he is preparing a 'roadmap' to resolving the two-month standoff between his government and Red Shirt protesters that has claimed 27 lives.

Sukree Sukplang/Reuters
Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva speaks during a parliamentary session in Bangkok Monday. Vejjajiva said today he will find a political solution to the tense standoff with antigovernment Red Shirt protesters.

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Thailand’s prime minister said today he will find a political solution to the tense standoff with antigovernment Red Shirt protesters that has now entered its eighth week.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's commitment to peacefully resolving the standoff softens his comments from Sunday, when he said that government forces were preparing to try again to clear protesters from the Bangkok commercial district they occupy. Ongoing clashes have killed 27 people and wounded at least 1,000 since the protesters marched into Bangkok on March 14 demanding the dissolution of parliament and new elections.

The Associated Press reports that Prime Minister Abhisit told parliament on Monday he would listen to the suggestions of all political parties and come up with a "roadmap" for defusing the crisis. The prime minister previously held several rounds of talks with the protesters – who are called Red Shirts for their clothing – but broke them off when the protesters insisted on dissolving Parliament within a month; Abhisit has demanded until the end of the year to call new elections.

Abhisit did not give details of what a political solution might entail, but the AP reports that Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said the government might compromise on the timetable for elections – though only if the red shirts back down.

"The principle is that if the country is quiet, people stop taking sides and are ready to abide by the rules like in other democratic countries, the prime minister will probably decide to dissolve the Parliament," Suthep told reporters.

The Red Shirts come largely from poor rural areas, and many of them support former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a military coup in 2006. They consider the current government illegitimate and controlled by the elite. Following the February trial that saw $1.4 billion seized from Thaksin's fortune, protesters descended on Bangkok en masse in March and formed encampments in large swaths of the city that have forced businesses to close, caused Thais to stay home from work, and hurt tourism. At their main encampment in Bangkok’s commercial district, they set up an imposing barricade made of sharpened bamboo sticks and tires.

When government troops attempted to clear that encampment on April 10, 25 people were killed and the soldiers retreated.

Abhisit said Sunday the government is preparing to try again, reports the BBC. The government is “sealing off and cutting off support” to the protesters’ encampment before moving against it, and he did not say when that will happen. The Bangkok Post reports that the government is bringing armored vehicles to Bangkok to help clear the protesters from their barricaded encampment.

Meanwhile, the global think tank the International Crisis Group released a report that says the crisis cannot be ended through the Thai political system, and warns that “violence in Bangkok could spread if there is a crackdown.” The group calls for Thailand to accept international mediation to end the crisis:

"The Thai political system has broken down and seems incapable of pulling the country back from the brink of widespread conflict. The stand-off in the streets of Bangkok between the government and Red Shirt protesters is worsening and could deteriorate into an undeclared civil war. The country’s polarization demands immediate action in the form of assistance from neutral figures from outside."

The Christian Science Monitor reported last week that some Western diplomats are “quietly discussing” bringing international mediators in to help resolve the situation, though the Thai government has rejected the idea. The International Crisis Group suggested that East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta, who has already traveled to Bangkok and met with Abhisit, could be joined by other high-level international figures to help mediate the crisis.

President Ramos-Horta said it would be difficult to find figures qualified to become involved in Thailand:

In an interview, East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta, whose young democracy has relied heavily on international support to tackle political violence, gave his support to foreign mediation. But he warned that it would be hard to find someone who can step into the complex situation.

“I don’t think any international mediator is knowledgeable enough about Thailand to be able to play a critical role,” he says.


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