U.S. News

WRAPUP 5-Thai protesters refuse to leave, push new demands


By Jason Szep BANGKOK, May 10 (Reuters) - Thai anti-government protesters refused on Monday to end a crippling two-month street demonstration until the government accepted responsibility for a clash with troops in April that killed 25 people. The United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), better known as the "red shirts" for their trademark attire, said Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban must face criminal charges before they will leave central Bangkok. The new demand crushed speculation of an imminent end to protests that have paralysed an upscale commercial district at a cost to retailers of more than $30 million in lost business, decimated Thailand's lucrative tourism industry and squeezed Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy. "Once Suthep turns himself in to the police, the UDD will disperse and return home," a protest leader, Nattawut Saikua, told supporters. That looked highly unlikely. "The government will never do that because if they do, they would be admitting guilt in resorting to violence against the protesters," said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a visiting research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. Suthep has denied he should be held responsible for deaths on April 10, when troops clashed with protesters at night in Bangkok's old quarter in a chaotic gun battle that killed 20 civilians and five soldiers and wounded more than 800 people. The government has blamed the killings on shadowy "terrorists" working with the red shirts. Suthep will appear before the Department of Special Investigation on Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. (0130 GMT) to hear complaints filed against him by the protesters for "malfeasance which resulted in deaths and injuries of civilians", said DSI chief Tharit Pengdith. But he faces no formal charges. "If he goes there just to listen of his accusations or to have a few pictures taken, then it really means nothing to us," said Jatuporn Prompan, another red shirt leader. Although they refused to leave the streets, the mostly rural and working-class protesters accepted a timeframe for a general election proposed by the government for Nov. 14, including plans to dissolve parliament in the second half of September. That was their only concession. Denouncing the government as "tyrants" and "murderers", their leaders set several conditions for ending their five-week occupation of Bangkok's main shopping district, including Suthep's arrest and the lifting of a ban on the People's Channel, a television station set up and financed by the red shirts. COST TO ECONOMY After weekend gun and grenade attacks that killed two police officers and wounded 13 people, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva had said he wanted a "clear answer" on Monday to his national reconciliation offer, which includes a new election. The authorities are faced with the dilemma of how to dislodge thousands of protesters, including women and children, from a fortified encampment sprawling across 3 sq km (1.2 sq mile) of an upmarket central Bangkok shopping district. Thai stocks rose more than 1 percent on Monday, less than some other Asian bourses, which jumped on optimism over a European Union plan to help indebted euro zone countries. "A rejection of the plan will be a setback to the peace efforts over the ongoing political impasse and could see reduced foreign inflows into the stock market," said Sukit Udomsirikul, a senior analyst at Siam City Securities. Central bank assistant governor Suchada Kirakul told Reuters Thailand saw $800 million foreign capital outflows last week, but added that the political instability had had little direct impact on the baht currency. The red shirts, who broadly support ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, have been demonstrating since mid-March, at first demanding immediate elections, and have been in the shopping area since April 3, forcing malls and hotels to close. The protests are the latest instalment of a political crisis that stretches back to 2005 and has exposed a deep fault line in Thai society, pitting the poor and rural masses against the urban middle classes and traditional, royalist elite. Abhisit does not have to call an election until the end of 201,1 but has offered the November poll as a way to end the impasse that has left 29 people dead and more than 1,000 wounded. In a weekly televised address on Sunday, he restated his commitment to the plan but said an election would not go ahead if there was disagreement and violence continued. The red shirts say the ruling coalition has no mandate after coming to power in a controversial parliamentary vote 17 months ago orchestrated by the army's top brass. Red shirt leaders have vowed to turn themselves in to police on May 15 to answer terrorism charges and have rejected claims they are seeking an amnesty from the government. (Additional reporting by Vithoon Amorn and Ploy Ten Kate; Editing by Alex Richardson) ((Bangkok Newsroom; +66 2 637 5610)) Keywords: THAILAND/ (If you have a query or comment on this story, e-mail to news.feedback.asia@thomsonreuters.com) COPYRIGHT Copyright Thomson Reuters 2010. All rights reserved.

The copying, republication or redistribution of Reuters News Content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Thomson Reuters.