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Pressure rises on Thai protesters to end demonstrations

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Thailand's government warned protesters Saturday that more violence could erupt if the entrenched demonstrations that have paralyzed areas of the capital for nearly two months did not end soon, reported the Associated Press.

The warning came in the wake of double nighttime attacks that killed two policemen and wounded 13 people, denting hopes that a reconciliation plan offered by the government last week would resolve the crisis peacefully.

Government spokesman Panithan Wattanayagorn said that if the so-called Red Shirts didn't end their occupation of Bangkok's prime commercial district "some people who don't wish to see reconciliation take place may take this opportunity to launch another attack."

He described the unknown assailants responsible for several attacks in the capital as "ill-intentioned people who used terror to try to ruin the conciliatory atmosphere." Violence tied to the protest _ including clashes between demonstrators and security forces _ has killed 29 people and wounded nearly 1,000.

On Friday, protest leaders had signaled they generally agreed with the reconciliation plan and might soon end the protracted demonstrations. Protest leaders denied Red Shirt involvement in the attacks and urged security forces be withdrawn from the streets, noting they only served as "lightning rods" for those trying to provoke violence.

They also indicated their occupation would continue while they sought a deal with the government, saying the two were not mutually exclusive.

"No matter who and whatever is trying to obstruct us, we will carry on our protest (in central Bangkok)," Weng Tojirakarn, a protest leader, said Saturday.

The protesters say they agree in principle with a proposal by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to dissolve Parliament and hold new polls _ their key demands _ but want more specific details and assurance that Abhisit has the full support of his coalition partners and other political actors.

"One mouth speaks of reconciliation while the other 99 mouths keep talking about cracking down," Weng said.

He called on the government to revoke emergency decrees that give the military powers to restore order and that ban public gatherings.

As Weng spoke, a long column of pickup trucks loaded with protesters arrived from northeastern Thailand to reinforce the Red Shirt "occupation zone."

"At the moment, we are waiting for more clarity from the Red Shirts. If they agree in principle (with the reconciliation plan), they must end the protest. They have to make the decision soon," the government spokesman said in a telephone interview.

Late Friday night, the relative calm that had prevailed for several days was broken by more violence near where grenades exploded on April 22 and killed one person and wounded dozens. The area, a short distance from the Red Shirt encampment, is guarded by many police and soldiers.

A witness, Decha Phoonpanang, said either a small explosive or gunshots whizzed past him, shattering the glass storefront of a bank and hitting two policemen _ one in the stomach _ and a man in the leg.

Slightly more than two hours later, about three explosions could be heard in an adjacent street that fronts a park, with police officers saying they believed them to be grenades.

The official Erawan Emergency Center on Saturday said two policemen were killed. Most of those wounded were believed to be police.

Other activists who oppose the Red Shirts have denounced the government's peace offering as a capitulation and have demanded that Abhisit clear their encampments or step down.

With some factions on all sides opposing a settlement, it is difficult to pinpoint an obvious suspect in the new violence.

The standoff in Bangkok has hammered the economy, decimated the tourist industry and ground government machinery to a near halt.

Abhisit unveiled a proposal that included new elections on Nov. 14 - about a year before his term would end _ if the protesters left their encampment. The Parliament must be dissolved at least 45 days before the elections.

But the date of the dissolution of Parliament has become a sticking point, with the Red Shirts insisting it be specified and Abhisit saying only it would happen in time for the November election, but possibly as early as September. No date would be fixed if the Red Shirts did not agree to the plan, the prime minister has said.

The timing is crucial because a key reshuffle of top military posts is scheduled for September, and the protesters don't want Abhisit at the helm then. It's not clear if a caretaker government, which would run the country after Parliament is dissolved, would be allowed to make the appointments.

The military holds tremendous power in Thailand, and the Red Shirts, who draw most of their supporters from the rural and urban poor, view Abhisit's government as the illegitimate product of back-room deals and military pressure on legislators.

The protest group includes supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted in a 2006 military coup following accusations of corruption and abuse of power.


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