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NEWS UPDATES 22 April 2010

Thailand: Red shirt protesters change tact as clash looms

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Thai protesters occupying central Bangkok said they’re willing to resume talks with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva provided troops leave the vicinity to prevent a repeat of deadly clashes earlier this month, the Bloomberg News reported.

“Abhisit has put a gun to our head so how can we talk?” Weng Tojirakarn, a protest leader who participated in televised negotiations with the prime minister last month, said in an interview. “First take away the gun and then we can talk.”

Abhisit, who said today the protesters are armed, is under pressure to reclaim the protest site that has prompted shopping malls and five-star hotels like the Grand Hyatt and Intercontinental to close. A failed attempt to disperse the group on April 10 left 25 people dead and the unrest threatens to “decimate” tourism, according to the finance ministry.

The government must also lift a state of emergency for talks to take place, Weng said. The group plans to submit a letter to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon requesting a peacekeeping force to protect them, he added.

Removing the anti-government demonstrators “is more difficult these days as protesters have weapons, especially war weapons,” Abhisit said.

The prime minister has blamed “terrorists” within the protesters for the violence and said yesterday the conflict is “beyond myself” and “involves a plan to change the country’s political system.”

There are about 7,000 people in the protest site, a smaller figure than in previous weeks, Siriya Khuangsirikul, an assistant to the army spokesman, said by phone. The group is armed with grenades and M-16 assault rifles, she said.

Rally organizers have denied the group has weapons beyond bamboo sticks they’ve used to build walls at entry points to the main site. As many as 100,000 supporters remained inside the encampment and more were coming from rural areas, Jaran said.


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