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NEWS UPDATES 29 March 2010

Thai PM, Red Shirts in second round of talks on Monday

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Red Shirt leaders were defiant as they prepared to meet Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Monday for a second day of televised talks to press for elections following weeks of disruptive protests, reported AFP.

A first round of negotiations, watched live on television by millions of Thais, failed on Sunday after Abhisit refused to bow to the demands of the protesters, who are loyal to fugitive deposed premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

"We have our demand and I believe Abhisit has his answer," Red Shirt leader Nattawut Saikuar told reporters at the Reds' Bangkok protest site.

The Red Shirts, supported mainly by Thailand's poor rural population, first gathered two weeks ago in the capital's government quarter, laying open again the country's wide social chasm following months of rival street campaigns.

The red-dressed movement says the government is elitist and undemocratic because it came to power on the back of a parliamentary vote after a controversial court ruling ousted Thaksin's allies from power.

During three hours of talks on Sunday three Red Shirt leaders told Abhisit he had two weeks to dissolve the house, but agreed to meet again Monday at 6:00pm (1100 GMT) to resume discussions at a Bangkok educational institute.

A minister in the premier's office, Satit Wongnongtoey, said the government was "optimistic" about the outcome.

"We believe a solution is possible," Satit told reporters.

The Reds' populist political icon, former telecoms tycoon Thaksin, made one of his regular speeches by videolink following Sunday's talks, urging the thousands-strong rally to get behind the movement's leaders, who he admitted had been deflated following their face-to-face with the eloquent Abhisit.

Thaksin was ousted in a coup in 2006 and currently lives in Dubai to avoid a jail sentence for corruption. The Reds began rallying on March 14 after a court ruling seized 1.4 billion dollars of Thaksin's fortune.

Their demonstrations have peaked at the weekends, with 80,000 Red Shirts on Saturday forcing troops to retreat from security posts in the heart of Bangkok.

They have staged a series of dramatic stunts in their bid to force Abhisit down, picketing the army barracks where he is holed up and throwing their own blood at his office gates.

The Reds say the British-born, Oxford-educated Abhisit is only able to lead his six-party coalition with military backing.

Abhisit had ruled out talks while the protesters remained on the streets, but made an about-face on Sunday, a move analysts said might hint at a weakening of his support.

"How united is the military in bolstering Abhisit? Could this be why he is meekly agreeing to negotiations?" said Thailand analyst Paul Chambers of Germany's Heidelberg University. "One wonders what he has to gain from it."

While the demonstrations have passed peacefully, security forces have taken few chances, putting a 50,000-strong force on the streets and using a strict security law to police the rallies.

Army spokesman Colonel Sunsern Kaewkamnerd said a military task force would meet on Monday to discuss extending the Internal Security Act, which is due to expire on Tuesday.

The capital was hit late Sunday by the latest in a series of explosions at politically significant sites and army buildings.

A woman was injured by the grenade attack at the home of ex-prime minister Banharn Silpa-archa, police said.

A dozen people were hurt over the weekend when grenades were lobbed at the gate of the barracks where Abhisit has been living and working during the protests.


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