Elections could be held in November
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Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Monday that the country will hold elections in November if a reconciliation plan is agreed upon. Thailand has been in political turmoil since mid-March, when protesters attempted to overthrow the government.
AFP - Thailand's beleaguered premier said Monday that he was ready to hold elections in November to resolve a tense standoff with anti-government protesters who have occupied Bangkok's commercial heart.
But, speaking in a nationally televised address, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said the timetable was subject to all parties agreeing to a five-point reconciliation process aimed at ending the crippling crisis.
The plan calls for respect for the monarchy, greater social equality, an impartial media, an independent probe into the current political crisis and a debate on the need for constitutional reform.
"I'm convinced that it will not take long to achieve national reconciliation and when we achieve national reconciliation the government is ready to hold elections on November 14," said Abhisit said.
"I think this is the best solution at the current time," he said.
The mostly poor or working class "Red Shirts" protesters have occupied parts of Bangkok since mid-March, defying a state of emergency in their bid to topple a government they see as elitist and undemocratic.
The movement said it would discuss Abhisit's proposal before responding.
"We may have offers for the government. We may not agree to everything," one of the protest leaders, Jatuporn Prompan, told AFP.
There have been a series of tense confrontations between the demonstrators and the security forces in Bangkok, where 27 people died and nearly 1,000 were injured in unrest last month.
The Red Shirts have reinforced roadblocks and stepped up security checks on the perimeter of their sprawling protest site, which has been fortified with barricades made from piled up truck tyres, razor wire and bamboo stakes.
Abhisit last month rejected a compromise offer by the Reds to disperse if elections were held within three months, and the protesters have reverted to their original demand for immediate polls.
In March he had offered to hold elections by the end of 2010 -- a year ahead of schedule -- to end the standoff, but protest leaders rejected the proposal.
The authorities have repeatedly said they plan to retake the protest site without disclosing when.
A failed April 10 attempt by the army to clear demonstrators from part of Bangkok's historic district sparked fierce street fighting that left 25 people dead and hundreds injured.
"The operation must end the entire problem, not cause other small problems," army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said Monday, adding that security forces would use armoured vehicles to retake the protest site.
"The armoured vehicles will provide safety for the authorities and protesters as there are armed groups at the protests. Armoured vehicles will reduce losses for both sides."
The authorities said they had seized rifles and grenade launchers from the home of a suspected Red Shirt as part of an investigation into an apparent attempt to shoot down a military helicopter on April 10.
Many of the Red Shirts seek the return of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and lives overseas to avoid a jail term for corruption.
Their campaign has caused several hotels and major stores to shutter their doors and prompted foreign governments to warn against travel to the "Land of Smiles", dealing a heavy blow to the vital tourism sector.
The movement faced heavy criticism after about 100 supporters raided a hospital Thursday, mistakenly believing it sheltered security forces preparing a crackdown.
The think-tank International Crisis Group has urged Thailand to consider mediation from outside to avoid a slide into "an undeclared civil war".