Thai Red Shirts reject all talks until army pulls out
THAILAND'S government faced renewed confrontation with opposition protesters last night after rejecting an offer of talks.
It refused to start talks until the thousands of opposition Red Shirts left their positions across the capital Bangkok.
Satit Wonghnongtaey, a prime ministerial aide, said: "The situation could be resolved and lead to negotiations when demonstrators disperse."
And Red Shirt leaders, who want early elections and the rehabilitation of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, also rejected the conditions.
Jatuporn Prompan, a demonstration leader, said: "We can't pull back before the military. We are not ready to walk out and be killed by soldiers. They have to pull back first."
Hopes of a breakthrough after two months of conflict rose yesterday after a group of senators offered to mediate in fresh talks. In less than a week, 38 people have died in running battles in Bangkok. Fires were raging on last night at three extensive barricades.
International pressure for a peaceful resolution has increased, with a leading United Nations official making an unusually strong intervention overnight to urge both sides to "step back from the brink".
The government announced three more public holidays for government employees in Bangkok in a move to keep civilians off the streets until the end of the week.
Security officials said a blockade on the main protest sites would be maintained in preference to an all-out crackdown.
"Our containment measures aim to stop the food supply, reduce the number of new protesters and put pressure on them to go home," said Suthep Thaugsuban, deputy prime minister. But demonstrators vowed to stay and resist the army's encroachment.
The violence and uncertain outlook has proved damaging to Thailand's all-important tourism industry and has forced banks and businesses in the city centre to shut down operations.
Without a resolution of the wider political dispute, foreign investment is likely to be hit hard. (© Daily Telegraph, London)