Saturday 17 March 2018

Thai PM meets rivals for live TV face-off

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. Photo: Getty Images
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. Photo: Getty Images

THAILAND'S prime minister faced his political opponents on live television yesterday to try to defuse a crisis that has produced huge demonstrations and sent him fleeing to live at an army base.

Viewers across the nation watched three men in red and three in blue -- the 'Red Shirt' protest leaders, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajva and two advisers -- shake hands with strained smiles across a conference table before reiterating their sharply different stances.

More talks were scheduled for today, but yesterday's three-hour meeting offered little reason to believe any agreement could be reached.

"Our request is simple and direct. We would like parliament dissolved to return power to the people, so they can make their decision," said Veera Muksikapong, one of the protest leaders.

Mr Vejjajva has repeatedly rejected the protesters' demands that he dissolve parliament, arguing that calling new elections will not fix Thailand's deep political problems.

He said: "The wound in this country cannot be healed by dissolving parliament. I have to make a decision based on a consensus from the entire country, including the Red Shirts.

"If I dissolve parliament, what colour shirts will spring up next?"

The talks were a relatively calm moment after more than two weeks of protests that have drawn more than 100,000 people to peaceful but increasingly confrontational rallies against a government that demonstrators consider illegitimate.


The protests have raised concerns of violence and prompted travel warnings from three dozen countries. "Can we bring a pleasant atmosphere back to the country?" Mr Vejjajva asked during the talks.

The prime minister has been living at an army base outside Bangkok since the protests started on March 12.

He had initially refused protesters' demands for talks on live television but his office said he abruptly reversed course "to restore peace and minimise the chance of violence".

The talks were broadcast on a giant screen at the main protest site, in the historic heart of Bangkok, where thousands of red-shirted protesters watched and waited for direction from their leaders.

"For now, we are not going to mobilise any more red shirts," protest leader Jatuporn Prompan said as he exited the talks.

"But we hope that tomorrow we get a clearer picture."

Irish Independent

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