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Thai army rules out crackdown
Announcement comes as protesters offer compromise to government amid rising tensions.
Last Modified: 23 Apr 2010 12:49 GMT
The protesters announced they are open to talks with the government to defuse the tensions [AFP]
 

Thailand's army will not crack down on anti-government protesters camped out in the capital, Bangkok, a spokesman for the country's army chief has said.

Colonel Sirichan Ngathong, a spokesman for General Anupong Paojinda, said the army chief met with his top military officials on Friday and told them a crackdown would do more harm than good.

"The army chief said in the meeting that the use of force will not end the current problems and would have many repercussions," he said.

"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."

The army meeting came a day after at least one person was killed and 86 others wounded in grenade attacks linked to weeks of protest by Thailand's so-called red shirt protesters.

Hundreds of riot police and protesters faced off at a major intersection in Bangkok's financial district on Friday morning before the police pulled back without incident.

Panitan Wattanayagorn, a spokesman for the Thai government, told Al Jazeera that the red shirts had been given until 10pm (15:00 GMT) on Friday to pull down their barricade.

'Open to talks'

However shortly after the army announcement, a top leader of the red shirts said the protesters are ready to open talks with the government to defuse the tensions.

IN VIDEO

Bloodshed on Bangkok's streets again

Veera Musikapong said on Friday that the group had changed its main demand for the immediate dissolution of the Thai parliament to a 30-day timeframe.

But he called for troops' withdrawal from around the protest site and demanded Abhisit Vejjajiva, the prime minister, to launch an independent probe into an April 10 clash with protesters that killed 25 people, and Thursday night's grenade attacks.

"If the government says it will dissolve the House within 30 days, it is negotiable," he said.

"After the House dissolution, the government will have another 60 days to prepare for elections. In total it will be 90 days.

"But the government has to stop threatening people and show responsibility for what had happened."

Grenade attacks

Al Jazeera's Aela Callan, reporting from Bangkok, said the situation has been quite volatile.

"Thailand is extremely divided right now; we are seeing a huge well of anger among Bangkok residents who are upset this protest is going on in their city, but also among people who do support the government.

in depth

  Q&A: Thaksin and the red shirts
  Profile: Thaksin Shinawatra
  Blog: Thailand's darkest day
   
  VIDEOS
  Deadly grenade attacks
  Red shirts rally rural support
  Protesters fight for a voice
  Violence flares in capital
  Red shirts stage blood protest
   
  PROGRAMMES
  Thailand: Warring colours
  101 East: Thailand's red shirts

"The government is coming under increasing pressure, both politically from inside the coalition and also from general people on the streets to enforce a crackdown on these red shirt protesters.

"It is, however, very tough for the government to do this without extreme loss of life," she said.

The army had blamed the red shirts for Thursday's grenade attacks,even before all five explosions had taken place and Suthep Thaugsuban, the deputy prime minister, went on television to say that the grenades had been fired from an M79 grenade launcher from within the red shirts' protest area.

He had also said three people were killed in the violence but the Bangkok Emergency Medical Service confirmed on Friday that only one person was killed and 86 injured.

Protest leaders denied they were to blame for the grenade attacks.

Sean Boonpracong, a spokesman for the group, told Al Jazeera that "the government was too quick to place the blame on last night's violence on us".

He added that the movement was "open to negotiations but with a third party, like the United Nations - someone we can trust – because as far was we are concerned, this government has lost all legitimacy and every promise they have made, they have not kept".

Prospect of clashes

The red shirts, many of whom support Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister ousted in a 2006 coup, have been occupying Bangkok's main upmarket shopping area in Rachaprasong for three weeks.

Any attempt to disperse them risks heavy casualties and the prospect of clashes spilling into high-end residential areas.

A failed attempt by security forces to flush protesters from a historic district in Bangkok on April 10 erupted into the worst political violence Thailand has seen in 18 years, leaving 25 dead and more than 800 wounded.

The red shirts, formally known as the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, want the prime minister to step down, dissolve parliament and call new elections.

But Abhisit Vejjajiva has rejected claims that his government is illegitimate and has refused to step down.

The central bank said on Wednesday that the political crisis was affecting confidence, tourism, private consumption and investment, although exports, which are crucial to economic growth, have been little affected by the unrest.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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