BANGKOK – Thailand's prime minister and his political opponents were set for more talks Monday after their televised initial meeting defused tensions temporarily but did not bridge a divide over the protesters' insistence he call new elections.
The "Red Shirt" protest leaders, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajva, and two of his advisers shook hands with strained smiles across a conference table Sunday before reiterating their sharply different stances. The three-hour meeting offered little reason to believe any agreement could be reached when the negotiations resume at 6 p.m. (1100 GMT).
"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.
The leaders gave Abhisit 15 days to meet their demands, which Abhisit has repeatedly rejected, arguing that calling new elections will not fix Thailand's deep political problems. Click on title to read the rest!
While both sides have vowed to remain nonviolent, a string of nonfatal attacks have unnerved Bangkok in recent days.
Sunday night, one person was wounded when a bomb exploded near the home of former Prime Minister Banharn Silapa-archa, gunfire struck a branch of the Bangkok Bank and a tent that served food to the protesters was burned down.
A dozen soldiers and four civilians were wounded in weekend blasts at the army base serving as Abhisit's office and at two state-run TV stations.
The talks were a relatively calm moment after more than two weeks of protests that have drawn more than 100,000 people to 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.
Abhisit has been sleeping and working at an army base outside Bangkok since the protests started March 12. He had initially refused protesters' demands for talks on live television but abruptly reversed course Sunday "to restore peace and minimize the chance of violence," his office said. He met protest leaders at an academic institute in a Bangkok suburb.
Thailand's political crisis started in 2006 when protesters wearing yellow shirts demanded the ouster of then- , whom they accused of corruption. Thaksin was toppled later that year by a military coup.
Four years later, Thaksin remains at the center of Thailand's political conflict. He has helped orchestrate the Red Shirt protests from Dubai and other locations since fleeing a corruption conviction in 2008.
The Red Shirt movement — known formally as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship — consists largely of Thaksin supporters from the country's poor, rural heartland and pro-democracy activists who opposed the army takeover.
Protest leaders have portrayed the demonstrations as a struggle between Thailand's impoverished, mainly rural masses — who benefited from Thaksin policies of cheap health care and low-interest village loans — and a Bangkok-based elite impervious to their plight.
Thaksin's allies won elections in December 2007, but two resulting governments were forced out by court rulings. A parliamentary vote brought Abhisit's party to power in December 2008. The Red Shirts say his rule is undemocratic and that only new elections can restore integrity to Thai democracy.
Abhisit must call a new election by the end of 2011, and many believe Thaksin's allies are likely to win — which could spark new protests by Thaksin's opponents. The Yellow Shirts occupied Government House for three months in 2008 and then shut Bangkok's airports for two weeks.
Associated Press writer Jocelyn Gecker contributed to this report.