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||21 March 2010
Thai PM offers to talk with protesters, rejects calls for new polls
Thailand's prime minister offered Sunday to have his government hold talks with protesters trying to force him from power with massive demonstrations in the capital, but refused their demand that he immediately call new elections, the Associated Press reported.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said he would send two Cabinet-level officials to meet with the so-called "Red Shirts" after their massive show of strength a day earlier in which as many as 100,000 protesters drove through the streets of Bangkok in a giant caravan. He said he wants to ease tensions.
The Red Shirts, formally known as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, have so far rejected his overtures, saying they want to speak directly to him instead.
The Red Shirts consist of supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a 2006 military coup for alleged corruption, and pro-democracy activists who opposed the army takeover.
They believe Abhisit came to power illegitimately with the connivance of the military and other parts of the traditional ruling class and that only new elections can restore integrity to Thai democracy.
Thaksin's allies took power in a December 2007 election but were forced out by court rulings. Abhisit's Democrat Party then rallied the support of enough lawmakers to form a coalition government in December 2008.
The Red Shirts had billed their protest - which began a week ago - as a "million-man march," but at its peak, it attracted just over 100,000 by most estimates. The crowd fell by as much as half during the work week.
The group also came in for criticism for splattering their own blood at the gates of Abhisit's office, the headquarters of his ruling party and his private residence.
In the latest bid to publicise its cause, the group was using 15 leftover jugs of blood Sunday to paint a mural.
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