Thai PM to hold further talks with protesters

4 min

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is set to meet with protesters for new talks following an impasse during televised negotiations when Abhisit refused to bow to demands for a snap election.


REUTERS - Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was set to resume talks with “red shirt” opposition protesters on Monday to find a way out of a political impasse that may now be of some concern for investors.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators have set up camp in Bangkok for over two weeks demanding fresh elections, but investors have largely shrugged off the crisis, buying a net 47 billion baht ($1.45 billion) of shares since Feb. 22.

However, the stock market was down 0.84 percent by 0520 GMT on Monday and has lost about 2.6 percent since reaching a 21-month high on Wednesday.

“The unsettling political situation will limit fund inflows to the Thai stock market,” said Chakkrit Charoenmetachai, an analyst with Globlex Securities. “Foreign investors have made huge they could hold back somewhat now.”

The Finance Ministry said the economy could grow 4.5 percent this year in revised economic forecasts published on Monday, up from 3.5 percent forecast in December, but one official said political tension could throw that out of gear.

“Our hope that private consumption and investment would take the baton from the government in spurring growth may be dashed,” Finance Ministry spokesman Ekniti Nitithanprapas was quoted as telling a roundtable organised by the Nation newspaper.

On Sunday, Abhisit was locked in televised talks for almost three hours with leaders of the movement, who broadly support twice-elected former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, but Abhisit rejected ultimatums and said any solution would take time.

Abhisit abruptly ended the talks when pressed about a timeframe for parliamentary dissolution. He left on Monday for a short visit to nearby Brunei, but was scheduled to return to resume the talks at 1100 GMT.

One of the leaders, Jatuporn Prompan, said he would pick up where he left off. “What I asked him last night, I’ll ask him again,” he told reporters on Monday. “I want him to agree to dissolve the house within 15 days.”

Must call election

Abhisit must call an election by the end of next year but insists the country is too divided to face a vote, which analysts say Thaksin’s political allies are likely to win, raising the possibility of another judicial or military intervention.

The embattled Abhisit says agreements have to be reached before house dissolution to prevent violence and ensure all parties can canvass without obstruction.

After two weeks of peaceful rallies, the “red shirts” have intensified their campaign to topple the government, triggering fears of clashes between security forces and protesters and a flurry of negotiations to defuse tensions.

Tens of thousands rallied on Sunday outside an army base where Abhisit has stayed, a day after surrounding his Government House office and forcing thousands of troops to pack up and leave eight sites around the city’s historic heart.

It appeared the “red shirts” were responding to calls late last week by ousted former premier Thaksin, their assumed leader and financier, for a campaign of “civil disobedience”.

The protests continue to draw attention to the divisiveness in Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy that has clouded the long-term investment outlook.

The threat of a flare-up and a slew of mysterious but non-fatal grenade attacks and small bombings on government buildings, banks, and three state-controlled television stations have rattled the city of 15 million.

Analysts have said Abhisit, who enjoys staunch backing of the military and Thailand’s establishment elites, is unlikely to make any real concessions but wants to be seen to be reaching out to a movement he has long snubbed.

The “red shirts” say he is beholden to the military because it organised political defections that helped Abhisit form a government after the ruling pro-Thaksin party was disbanded in December 2008.

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