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Thai protesters mull PM Abhisit's peace overture

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Thailand's Red Shirt protest movement was on Tuesday to consider Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's proposal to hold elections in mid-November as a way of ending the country's political crisis reported AFP.

A spokesman for the movement, which has demanded the immediate dissolution of Abhisit's government, said late Monday it would discuss the prime minister's proposal before responding.

"We may have offers for the government. We may not agree to everything," one of the protest leaders, Jatuporn Prompan, told AFP.

Speaking on national television, Abhisit said on Monday that he was ready to hold elections in November to resolve the tense standoff with anti-government protesters, who have occupied Bangkok's commercial heart.

He said the proposed timetable, under which an election will be held a year earlier than scheduled, was subject to all parties agreeing to a five-point reconciliation process aimed at ending the crippling impasse.

The plan calls for respect for the monarchy, greater social equality, an impartial media, an independent probe into the current political crisis and a debate on the need for constitutional reform.

"I'm convinced that it will not take long to achieve national reconciliation and when we achieve national reconciliation the government is ready to hold elections on November 14," said Abhisit.

"I think this is the best solution at the current time," he said.

The mostly poor or working class "Red Shirt" protesters have occupied parts of Bangkok since mid-March, defying a state of emergency in their bid to topple a government they see as elitist and undemocratic.

There have been a series of tense confrontations between the demonstrators and the security forces in Bangkok, where 27 people died and nearly 1,000 were injured in unrest last month.

The Red Shirts have reinforced roadblocks and stepped up security checks on the perimeter of their sprawling protest site, which has been fortified with barricades made from piled up truck tyres, razor wire and bamboo stakes.

Abhisit last month rejected a compromise offer by the Reds to disperse if elections were held within three months, and the protesters have reverted to their original demand for immediate polls.

In March he had offered to hold elections by the end of the year but protest leaders rejected the proposal.

A failed April 10 attempt by the army to clear demonstrators from part of Bangkok's historic district sparked fierce street fighting that left 25 people dead and hundreds injured.

Many of the Red Shirts want the return of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and lives overseas to avoid a jail term for corruption.

Their campaign has caused several hotels and major stores to shutter their doors and prompted foreign governments to warn against travel to the "Land of Smiles," dealing a heavy blow to the important tourism sector.

The movement faced heavy criticism after about 100 supporters raided a hospital last week, mistakenly believing it sheltered security forces preparing a crackdown.

The think-tank International Crisis Group has urged Thailand to consider mediation from outside to avoid a slide into "an undeclared civil war".


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