×

WRAPUP 6-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", accepted a timetable for Nov. 14 elections, but set a new condition that Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban must face criminal charges. The demand doused 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 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 in a chaotic gun battle in Bangkok's old quarter that killed 20 civilians and five soldiers, and wounded more than 800 people. The government blames the killings on shadowy "terrorists" working with the red shirts, whose leaders have vowed to turn themselves in to police on May 15 to answer terrorism charges. 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 to his accusations or to have a few pictures taken, then it really means nothing to us," said Jatuporn Prompan, another red shirt leader, adding the protesters want police to file criminal charges against Suthep. 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, 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 other conditions for ending their five-week occupation of Bangkok's main shopping district, including ending 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 the November 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. Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said Abhisit was ready to acknowledge a complaint by the protesters over his role in the April 10 violence, but that he is protected by the immunity of being a parliamentarian. Suthep does not have such immunity. He resigned as a lawmaker after the National Counter Corruption Commission last year ruled he had violated the constitution by holding shares in businesses linked to the government. 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. 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 2011 but has offered the November poll as a way to end a crisis that has killed 29 people and wounded more than 1,000. 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. (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.