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Thai premier to hold reform talks

Dialogue follows a blow to protesters, as a top military general refuses to back the opposition.

Last updated: 15 Dec 2013 02:53
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Thailand's prime minister is set to hold talks in a bid to resolve the political crisis which has already forced the dissolution of parliament and early elections.

Yingluck Shinawatra is due to meet "representatives of all sectors of society" on Sunday to try to formulate proposals for reforming Thailand after the national elections.

It remains unclear whether she will meet with General Thanasak Pratimaprakorn, after the military commander hosted a similar forum with anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban.

At that meeting on Saturday, Suthep repeated his position that Yingluck's caretaker government must step down and an interim, non-elected government administer the country, before any new polls were held on February 2.

He denied calling for a coup, but reportedly told General Pratimaprakom, "if you make a decision soon, the people will see you as a hero of the people, and we can solve the problem".

The military did not indicate whether it would act on the protesters' behalf.

General Pratimaprakorn said the sides must reach a "solution that fixes everything for the long term, and does not return things to the same cycle".

He also said he was keen for elections to be transparent, and that they be held "according to the law".

The general, a senior but mostly figurehead officer, was the official host of the forum, distancing the proceedings from the man seen as the country's real power broker, Army Commander General Prayuth Chan-ocha, who declined to make any comment.

Yingluck dissolved the lower house of parliament on Monday and called for early polls in an attempt to end a crisis which has seen thousands of protesters taking to Bangkok's streets, but protesters continue to insist she make way for another prime minister immediately.

Suthep and his "People's Democratic Reform Committee'' want new laws to banish corruption in politics to be implemented ahead of any election.

Military intervention

Thailand's military is historically noted for intervening during political crises, staging about a dozen coups since the country became a constitutional monarchy in 1932, and using the threat of force for leverage.

But its interventions in recent decades have been messy.

In 1992, the army shot dead dozens of pro-democracy demonstrators protesting a military-backed government in the streets of Bangkok, the capital, and in 2010 repeated the bloodshed in quashing another uprising.

The army's 2006 coup against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's brother, was a bloodless one, but was followed by the installation of a much-criticised interim government.

The coup also polarised the country, which has seen Thaksin's supporters and opponents contending for power ever since, sometimes violently.

The protesters claim Thai politics are hopelessly corrupt under Thaksin's continuing influence, and that he buys his electoral support from the country's urban and rural poor.

Thaksin's supporters say he is disliked by Bangkok's elite because he has shifted power away from the traditional ruling class.

Thaksin and his allies have easily won every national election since 2001.

Neutral military

More significant than what Suthep said on Saturday was the role the armed forces played in hosting the event.

The military, apparently seeking to cast itself in a new light, has repeatedly declared itself neutral in the current political battle, though it is no secret that it dislikes Thaksin.

Despite being wanted by police on an insurrection charge, Suthep sat on a stage during Saturday's public forum, which was attended by the leaders of the various military branches.

The commander of the national police force, whose leadership and ranks are generally pro-government, was invited but did not attend.

"I think it is significant that the military side has tried to make sure that this meeting is not seen as a private meeting, between the protesters, between Suthep protest movement and the generals," Chris Baker, a political analyst, told Al Jazeera. 

"They have invited other people to be there as well and they have ensured that it's kind of open and above board," he said.

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Source:
Agencies
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