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UPDATE 1-Thai protest talks on Monday, analysts doubt deal


By Boontiwa Wichakul BANGKOK, March 21 (Reuters) - Opposition activists prepared for talks on Monday with Thailand's government to seek a way out of an political conflict, but with neither side willing to budge, a swift resolution seems unlikely. About 30,000 protesters remained at their encampment in Bangkok's historic heart on Sunday, a day after at least twice that number fanned out across the capital on motorcycles and pickup trucks to court support for their bid to topple Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's government. Abhisit is refusing to bow to pressure to dissolve parliament and call a new election, but said on Sunday he was willing to negotiate with the "red shirts", although analysts said neither side had anything to bring to the table. The rally entered its eighth day on Sunday, and leaders have vowed to keep up the pressure for at least another two weeks. The lack of any "red shirt" violence helped lift Thai stocks to a 20-month high last week, with foreigners continuing to pour money into one of Asia's cheapest bourses. Often criticised for his reluctance to reach out to the "red shirts", Abhisit again welcomed talks, but reiterated that house dissolution was not an immediate option. "We will talk with the 'red shirts' tomorrow, about the broad framework, but everyone from the coalition parties agree that the government will not dissolve the house," Abhisit said in a televised news conference. Education Minister Chinnaworn Boonyakiat will represent the government in Monday's talks, but that is likely to irk the opposition who insist the premier is the only one they will deal with. "We should not go into too much detail, but we will probably discuss broad principles such as the right timing for house dissolution, and how," Abhisit said in an earlier address on Sunday. But analysts said the stakes were too high for both sides and talks were unlikely to produce any compromise. "There's nothing to talk about," said Somjai Phagaphasvivat, a political scientist at Bangkok's Thammasat University. "The minimum the 'red shirts' will accept is house dissolution and the government will not yield to that. The root cause of the problem will not be addressed and talks will just pave the way for more protests and upheaval in future." GOVT SEEN UNLIKELY TO FALL Investors and most analysts believe Abhisit's government is unlikely to fall as it has the backing of the military and wealthy establishment elites, accused by the "red shirts" of meddling in politics and undermining democracy. Somjai said the premier's likely tactic was to wait for the protesters, many of whom are from rural areas, to become tired, frustrated and disheartened, and run out of steam. "Abhisit is holding all the cards," he added. "He knows this can't go on for months." The lack of violence and stability of a government that has put Southeast Asia's second largest economy on course for recovery has lessened short term political risk. But investors remain hesitant about long-term expansion in a country beset by deep social rifts. Much of the divisiveness centres on the ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, the assumed leader and financier of the movement, who is loved by Thais as much as he is loathed. Overthrown in a 2006 coup and sentenced in absentia to two years in prison for graft, the twice-elected Thaksin is fighting to return from self-imposed exile and wrestle back de facto political power through his allies in the opposition party. Security was stepped up late on Saturday after two attacks on what the authorities said were symbolic targets. It was not known who was behind the attacks and protesters denied responsibility. A grenade exploded in the compound of the Defence Ministry, close to the protest site, slightly wounding two people, while an explosive device was hurled at the headquarters of the National Anti-Corruption Commission in Nonthaburi, near Bangkok. Protest leaders were planning to raise the intensity of their rally on Monday and Tuesday. They might seek to make Abhisit's job impossible by following him and blocking his every move. The premier is avoiding his office, parliament and his home for security reasons and has based himself at a heavily fortified military compound, travelling around the city by helicopter. (Additional reporting by Khettiya Jittapong and Ambika Ahuja; Writing and additional reporting by Martin Petty; Editing by Jeremy Laurence) Keywords: THAILAND POLITICS/ (Bangkok Newsroom; +66 2 637 5610) COPYRIGHT Copyright Thomson Reuters 2010. All rights reserved.

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