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NEWS UPDATES 24 April 2010

Thai protesters accuse government of preparing crackdown

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A leader of Thailand's red-shirted protesters said Saturday afternoon that the government was preparing to crack down on the protesters, local media reports said.

The accusation came amidst reports of the protesters and the embattled government deliberating over the first steps towards a peaceful solution to their long-running deadlock.

The world community has urged both sides on Thailand's political divide to find a compromise, after two bouts of clashes this month have left 26 dead and hundreds injured including demonstrators and security forces, reported AFP.

As fears grew of a crackdown to close down a vast "Red Shirts" encampment in the heart of Bangkok, and end weeks of crippling street rallies, the army chief said Friday that the use of force was no solution to the crisis.

"The best thing is to create understanding among the people. The army's job now is to take care of the people, and not allow Thais to attack each other," General Anupong Paojinda told a meeting of military top brass.

The Reds, who had been seeking snap elections to replace a government they condemn as illegitimate, shortly after softened their demands and said they would accept a dissolution of parliament in 30 days.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who came to power in a 2008 parliamentary vote after a court removed allies of ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted in a coup, was noncommittal on the Reds' offer.

"I am determined to solve the problem," he told reporters late Friday, adding that a political solution could not be reached amid threats and intimidation.

Abhisit, who has been holed up in a military barracks since last month because of the protests, added: "I have a duty to solve the problem. If I can't I should not be here."

Red Shirt leaders on Saturday calmed their supporters, some of whom were angry over the concessions.

"The new proposal does not mean we are retreating, in political terms we are on the offensive because otherwise the international community will put pressure on us," Jaran Ditsatapichai said.

"If we shut down the door for negotiation it will be bad for us," he said, adding that foreign diplomats who met with the Reds on Friday had urged them to find a solution to avoid a looming crackdown.

Jaran said the military was reluctant to disperse the rally -- a manoeuvre that would likely cause huge casualties -- and that a crackdown would be shelved during the current negotiating phase.

Other Reds leaders were irritated over Abhisit's response to their proposal, and said they would continue calling in supporters from their stronghold in the country's impoverished and rural north.

"Don't insult our Red Shirts' olive branch, we offered a compromise to avoid further loss of people's lives," Kwanchai Praipana said at the protest camp that has paralysed Thailand's main retail district for three weeks.

"We can fight for one more year, don't underestimate us, we will have more people willing to come and join us at this rally site," he said.

Abhisit condemned fresh violence on Thursday that saw a series of grenade blasts tear through a pro-government rally, saying the attacks, which left one dead and scores injured, "aimed to kill ordinary people".

Tensions have been high since April 10 clashes, sparked by a failed attempt to dislodge protesters from their original rally base in Bangkok's historic district, which triggered clashes that killed 25 and injured 800.

The deepening crisis, and earlier warnings from the army that protesters could face live weapons fire in any new clashes, triggered alarm at the United Nations and among foreign governments.

Many nations have issued urgent calls for restraint and warned their citizens to stay away from the protests or avoid Bangkok altogether.

Thai police sought Friday to push the Red Shirts from a confrontation zone on the edge of the financial district where they have clashed with hardline pro-government mobs.

The Reds stepped back but kept in place a fortified barricade made of truck tyres, sharpened bamboo staves and plastic sheeting doused with fuel, which forms the front line of their vast encampment.

The Reds, drawn from the ranks of the rural poor as well as the urban working class, mostly support Thaksin who now lives overseas to avoid a jail sentence for corruption.


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