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Thailand Red-Shirts Spell Out New Conditions


Thailand's red-shirt leaders say they will continue their weeks-long protest in Bangkok unless certain conditions are met. The opposition leaders accepted Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's offer of November polls but said they would not go home until the deputy PM surrendered to police. The deputy prime minister is to present himself to authorities over the death and injury toll from the suppression of demonstrators on April 10.

Although anti-government protest leaders in Bangkok have endorsed the government's schedule for elections, they say they will continue to protest until Thailand's deputy prime minister Suthep Thaungsuban answers for the deaths in an April 10 clash.

Suthep was in charge of security operations on April 10 when more than 20 people were killed in a failed attempt to disperse protesters. His role was subsequently given to army chief Gen Anupong Paojinda.

Suthep is expected to meet with officials from the Justice Ministry's Department of Special Investigation (DSI) Tuesday to answer questions over the April incident.

Panitan Wattanayagorn, the Thai government spokesman, said Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, also agreed to meet DSI officials once he is cleared to do so by Parliament.

"The prime minister and the deputy prime minister made the decision to go and listen to the complaint at the DSI tomorrow especially for the case of Khun Suthep Thaugsuban. This is in line with the prime minister's position to defend his decision in a court of law when the emergency decree was declared," said Wattanayagorn.

Tensions have risen when in weekend comments, Mr. Abhisit set a deadline by the protesters, known as Red Shirts, until Monday to indicate when they will end the rallies that have paralyzed central Bangkok's commercial area. The prolonged demonstration has forced the closure of shops and hotels and has led to a sharp drop in Thailand's vital tourism industry.

While Red Shirt leaders met for more than two hours, no time frame for rnding demonstrations was announced.

Last week Mr. Abhisit set out a reconciliation plan that includes election as well as constitutional and electoral reforms and economic development.

But violence has increased once again. A drive by shooting of two policemen near the protest site and grenade attacks that wounded several people have undermined confidence in the reconciliation plan.

Professor Sombat Chantornvong, a political scientist at Thammasat University in Bangkok, said the on-going break down in law and order remains a concern.

"It's a mess now and I think we are kidding ourselves if we think that by this proposal we can reach a peaceful resolution. I don't think so," he said. "I think that when you have the breakdown of law and order; first you have to restore law and order then you can negotiate the reconciliation process or whatever - but first you have to bring back law and order," said Chantornvong.

The protesters, a loose coalition of left-wing activists, democracy campaigners and supporters of ousted leader Thaksin Shinwatra, say the government is illegitimate because it came to power through a parliamentary deal rather than an election.

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