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Mediation Efforts in Thailand Hope to Break Political Impasse

Efforts are under way in Thailand to mediate between the government and demonstrators occupying the compound of the main government building. As Ron Corben reports from Bangkok, there are fears a cabinet meeting being held this week in one of the provinces could lead to new violence between pro- and anti-government groups.

Thai Senate Speaker Prasobsook Boondech, began talks with the speaker of the House of Representatives and opposition leaders in an effort to end Thailand's growing political crisis.

Thousands of protesters, demanding that Prime Minister Samak Sundarvej resign, have surrounded the main government building for nearly two weeks. He has refused to step down.

But Mr. Samak, who hosted a television cooking show until early this year, could be forced to resign this week. He testified before a constitutional court that is considering a petition by senators who accuse him of continuing to appear on the show. They say he violated rules against government ministers working in the private sector.

Mr. Samak says he did nothing wrong as he was not paid a salary for his appearances on the program.

Chris Baker, an author and consultant on Thai politics, says the latest reconciliation efforts could ease the crisis that has brought much government work to a halt.

"The thing is not to me deadlocked - it is still moving and institutions and processes are there which can, can lead to some kind of result," said Baker. "So although the delicacy certainly means the risk of violence - the risk of institutionalized violence like a coup as well as is still possible - I still think there is room for hope."

The protesters are led by the People's Alliance for Democracy. Nine of the PAD's leaders face warrants for their arrest on charges that include treason. But to avoid bloodshed, the police have backed away from efforts to arrest the men.

But the PAD is losing public support. A new university opinion poll shows most people want the PAD to either surrender to the police or at least halt the protests.

Baker says that recent violence between the PAD and government backers undermined the support for the protests.

"This uncivil disobedience is not the sort of polite protest politics that people accept and encourage," he said. "So I think the PAD while still being outwardly uncompromising are considerably weakened at the moment - and that possibly opens the way for them to have to negotiate".

There are fears that violence could increase. Government supporters plan to stage rallies in 50 provinces to demand that the PAD end its siege of the government building. And on Tuesday, Mr. Samak will hold his weekly cabinet meeting in Udon Thani, a province where he has strong backing. Thai news media warn there could be clashes between his supporters and the PAD.

The PAD accuses Mr. Samak of acting for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup two years ago. While Mr. Thaksin, like Mr. Samak, is popular in rural areas and among the poor, Thailand's urban middle class consider him corrupt.