Peace talks to continue despite police killings
Anti-government protesters and the Thai government said they would continue to work toward a resolution of a political stalemate that has crippled their country, even as two policemen were killed in separate attacks in Bangkok on Friday.
AFP - Thailand's government and "Red Shirts" protesters on Saturday committed themselves to a faltering peace process despite twin attacks that left two police officers dead.
Grenade blasts and a drive-by shooting targeted security forces facing off against the anti-government Red Shirts at their massive rally encampment which has shut down most of Bangkok's main shopping district.
Both sides said the attacks were the work of groups intent on derailing embattled Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's reconciliation "roadmap" aimed at ending a two-month confrontation by holding elections on November 14.
The Reds have signed up to the peace process but are demanding a firm date for the dissolution of parliament before disbanding their protest base, where they are barricaded behind piles of fuel-soaked tyres and razor wire.
The overnight attacks also wounded 12 people in the latest outbreak of violence in a crisis that has left another 27 dead and nearly 1,000 injured in deadly clashes and other explosions.
The government urged the Reds to end their campaign quickly to avoid further bloodshed.
"Some groups of people do not want to see (the plan) succeed so the government calls on the Red Shirts to quickly make a decision, otherwise there will be more casualties," government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said.
"The best solution is to end the protests as soon as possible so that national reconciliation can move forward, and to stabilise the situation because it is likely that such attacks could be repeated."
Police said three grenades were thrown at a security checkpoint in front of a city park that forms the edge of the Reds camp. A 35-year-old policeman died in hospital, while another five police and three soldiers were wounded.
Earlier, one policeman was killed and four others -- two police and two civilians -- were injured when a man on a motorbike opened fire on officers patrolling the nearby Silom financial district.
The Reds denied any involvement in the attacks, which they also said were carried out by elements intent on sabotaging the peace plan.
"This will not distract us or derail the process," said Reds leader Nattawut Saikuar. "This is the work of groups of people who do not want to see this crisis end in a peaceful resolution under a national reconciliation process."
But underlining the Reds' determination to remain at their heavily fortified base, they said that 5,000 more supporters arrived Saturday from the movement's heartland in Thailand's rural and impoverished northeast.
Crowds at the Reds camp have swelled to as many as 100,000 people in the past, but earlier this week when a resolution appeared in sight, numbers dwindled to just a few thousand as a weary air descended on the rally area.
Panitan said the arrival of the reinforcements did not bode well for the peace negotiations.
Hopes for Abhisit's plan have see-sawed in recent days as it has met with growing opposition among Thailand's rival protest movements.
The pro-establishment "Yellow Shirts" -- who blockaded Bangkok's two main airports in 2008 in their own protests -- have rejected the roadmap and election plan and called on the prime minister to resign.
And in another setback, a moderate pro-government group known as the "Multicoloureds", whose rallies in the capital have also drawn thousands of supporters, called for the election date to be pushed back.
In a colour-coded crisis, Thailand is largely split between the mainly rural poor and urban working class Reds -- who broadly support fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra -- and the elite-backed Yellows.
The Reds condemn Abhisit's administration as illegitimate because it came to power in an army-backed 2008 parliamentary vote after a controversial court ruling ousted Thaksin's elected allies.
The billionaire ex-premier, who was ousted in a 2006 coup, now lives in exile to avoid a jail sentence for corruption.