Government holds emergency meeting to resolve political impasse
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The Thai government said it held an emergency meeting Sunday to resolve a political crisis that has crippled the country since March. Authorities said they discussed dislodging protesters from the capital as well as how to address their grievances.
AFP - Thailand's cabinet held an emergency meeting Sunday on how to quell the long-running standoff with anti-government "Red Shirts" in Bangkok amid fears it could spiral into further violence.
Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said the meeting at a military base discussed coping with "terrorists and the security of the monarchy" and addressing grievances of the Reds, who are mostly from the poor, rural north.
"We want to solve the problem of poverty and when the prime minister is ready, he will announce the political guidelines to solve the problem of the rallies," Panitan said.
The cabinet also allotted an extra 249 million baht (7.7 million dollars) to police and 28 million baht to the Department of Special of Investigation to deal with the protests.
The Reds have occupied sections of Bangkok since mid-March in their bid to force snap elections, with 27 people killed and nearly 1,000 injured in the capital's worst political violence in almost two decades.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva sought to reassure the public he had a plan to defuse the crisis during his weekly television address Sunday morning.
"I have already decided what steps to take, but I need to make sure it will be successful and have the least negative effect as possible," Abhisit said, without elaborating on his plan.
"After I do all of this, I will announce what I have decided to do about demands for parliament's dissolution."
With tensions simmering, the International Crisis Group (ICG) think-tank said Thailand must consider mediation from other countries to avoid a slide into further violence, a step which Abhisit rejected.
"The stand-off in the streets of Bangkok between the government and Red Shirt protesters is worsening and could deteriorate into an undeclared civil war," said the ICG in a report released Friday.
The report suggested forming a neutral negotiation committee with help from international figures such as East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta, a Nobel peace laureate who recently met Abhisit in Bangkok.
"Many countries are confused and ask why there is no negotiation. I talked to the premier of Timor and I listened to his advice that we need two ways to solve the problem," Abhisit said in his television address.
"The first is that the government must stop anyone who acts against the law. The second one is the government must not ignore the needs of the people."
The prime minister also repeated assertions the government was not considering declaring martial law.
"For now, martial law is not a tool to solve the problem," Abhisit said.
The demonstrations are the latest chapter in years of turmoil pitting the ruling elite against the Reds, who say the government came to power illegitimately in 2008.
Many of the Reds come from Thailand's rural poor and urban working classes and support former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and now lives overseas to avoid a jail term for corruption.
The Reds have faced heavy criticism after about 100 supporters raided Bangkok's Chulalongkorn hospital Thursday evening in the mistaken belief it sheltered security forces preparing a crackdown.
Red leaders have apologised profusely for the action, but claim the hospital was used in an April 22 grenade attack, during a standoff between pro- and anti-government supporters, that killed one person and wounded dozens.
The government said the grenades were fired from inside the Reds' camp -- an accusation the movement has denied.
About 70 bomb and grenade attacks have been carried out by unknown parties in Bangkok since the Reds began this year's street protests, according New York-based Human Rights Watch.
Several hundred members of the pro-government "Multi-coloured" movement -- the group targeted in the April 22 attack -- rallied near Thailand's parliament on Sunday.