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NEWS UPDATES 25 April 2010

Thai PM firm on retaking business hub occupied by red shirts

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Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva vowed to retake the Bangkok business hub seized since early April in an address aired on state television Sunday.

Red shirt protesters occupying key areas of Bangkok said they would fight until victory following a breakdown of negotiations and a televised appearance by the prime minister that offered no solution to the weekslong, sometimes bloody crisis, reported the Associated Press.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva spoke in a nationally televised interview alongside the army chief Sunday, in an apparent effort to dispel persistent rumors of a rift between Abhisit and the military.

The broadcast came a day after Abhisit's rejection of a compromise offer by the so-called Red Shirts - who say the current government is illegitimate and are demanding new elections - dashed hopes that a peaceful way could be found to end the standoff.

"We won't go home until we win," a protest leader, Khwanchai Praipana, told supporters following Abhisit's appearance.

He also urged protesters in provincial areas to confront police and military trying to stop reinforcements from entering Bangkok from provincial areas.

Clashes have already killed at least 26 people and wounded nearly 1,000 others since the "Red Shirt" protesters began occupying Bangkok's commercial center more than a month ago, closing down five-star hotels and shopping malls, paralysing daily life in the city and costing merchants millions of dollars per day.

The prime minister appeared on the broadcast with Thai army chief Gen. Anupong Paochinda beside him.

Anupong, saying the crisis must be solved by legal means, also denied there were any significant divisions within military ranks. "Being a huge organisation, it's possible but the number isn't significant enough to say that the military is divided. More importantly, everyone strictly follows orders," he said.

"We won't use violence but as I've said earlier, the situation has escalated toward violence so the military will have to adjust its measures," the army chief said. "As the PM said, if there is anything needed to bring back peace, we'll do it."

While stopping short of accusing the Red Shirts, Abhisit said that rocket-propelled grenades fired in Thursday's violence in the heart of the city's financial district were launched from inside a protest site by "terrorists." At least one person was killed Thursday, and 25 others died April 10 during clashes as soldiers unsuccessfully tried to clear the protesters from one of their camps.

The protesters, who claim the government took power illegitimately, had previously demanded Parliament be dissolved immediately, while the government said it would disband parliament in six months.

The Red Shirts softened their stance Friday, offering the government a proposed compromise of 30 days to disband the legislature in a move they said was aimed at preventing further bloodshed. But Abhisit rejected that offer.


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