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Thai protesters to scale back demonstrations

Move seen as prelude to eased tensions in nation where protesters' demand for PM's resignation has led to deadly unrest.

Last updated: 01 Mar 2014 08:29
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Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said on Friday protesters would withdraw from several sites [AFP]

Thailand's anti-government protesters who recently threatened to shut down the capital Bangkok have said they will significantly scale back their presence in the streets.

The move could be a prelude to eased tensions in the South-east Asian nation where demonstrators have for months pushed for the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, whom they accuse of being influenced by her tycoon brother Thaksin, a former prime minister, the Associated Press news agency reported on Saturday.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said in his nightly speech on Friday that the protesters would withdraw from several stages erected at key intersections around Bangkok.

Starting on Monday, they will consolidate at Lumpini Park, a central venue that has become a traditional protest site.

Grenade attacks

Political violence escalated in the past week with almost nightly grenade attacks and the deaths of four children last weekend in attacks on protest sites.

Twenty-three people have been killed and hundreds wounded in connection with the protests since November.

At the same time, Yingluck's supporters have stepped up their threats to take to the streets, and even resist with arms attempts to topple the government.

Suthep described the planned move as a token of appreciation for Bangkok residents putting up with the inconvenience, saying his People's Democratic Reform Committee acted not because the government sought to chase them out "but because we care about Bangkok and would like to return it to its owner".

Actions to shut down government offices and disrupt businesses controlled by Yingluck's family would continue, he said.

Thailand has seen political conflict since 2006, when then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted by a military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power.

Thaksin's supporters and opponents have since taken to the streets for extended periods in a power struggle.

Conditional offer

Suthep's announcement came a day after he made a highly conditional offer to negotiate with Yingluck, shifting from the absolute refusal he maintained for months.

Yingluck, who is in northern Thailand, said her government wanted negotiations but that the protesters must stop blocking elections and other constitutional processes, and that it was her duty to defend democracy.

Yingluck called early elections soon after the protest picked up steam, but the polls held in early February were disrupted by protesters and remain incomplete. Several districts will hold a re-vote this Sunday.

The violence has led for louder calls for negotiations - both from inside Thailand and from overseas.
John Kerry, the Secretary of State, on Friday called on Thailand to investigate "politically-motivated" attacks, denouncing the deaths of several children as "horrifying", according to the AFP news agency.

"As allies and close friends of the Thai people, we are profoundly saddened by the deaths and injuries that have shaken the country," Kerry said in a statement.

"I call upon Thai authorities to investigate these attacks swiftly and bring those responsible to justice," he said, adding "violence is not an acceptable means of resolving political differences."

Speaking about the deadly unrest, Kerry said: "As a father and grandfather, the death of several innocent children is particularly horrifying, and must at last be a wake-up call to all sides to refrain from violence, exercise restraint, and respect the rule of law."

He insisted that the United States does not take sides in Thailand's politics, saying it was up to the Thai people to resolve their differences.

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Source:
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