Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his political opponents sat down last night for a second set of talks meant to defuse tensions over a protest group’s insistence he call new elections.
The first round of talks on Sunday, which were televised, were a relatively calm moment after more than two weeks of protests that have drawn about 100,000 people to increasingly confrontational rallies against a government that demonstrators consider illegitimate. The protests have raised concerns of violence and prompted travel warnings from three dozen countries.
Three “Red Shirt” protest leaders met Abhisit and two of his advisers in the same room where they held three hours of discussions a day earlier. So far, they have failed to resolve differences between the two sides.
The Red Shirts say Abhisit came to power with the connivance of the military and other parts of the traditional ruling class, and only new elections can restore integrity to Thai democracy.
“Our request is simple and direct. We would like parliament dissolved to return power to the people, so they can make their decision,” said Veera Musikapong, one of the protest leaders.
The leaders gave Abhisit 15 days to meet their demands, which Abhisit has repeatedly rejected, saying that calling new elections would not fix Thailand’s deep political problems.
While both sides have vowed to remain nonviolent, a string of nonfatal attacks have unnerved Bangkok in recent days.
One person was wounded when a bomb exploded near the home of former Thai prime minister Banharn Silapa-archa on Sunday night, gunfire struck a branch of Bangkok Bank and a tent that served food to protesters was burned down.
A dozen soldiers and four civilians were wounded in weekend blasts at the army base serving as Abhisit’s office and at two state-run TV stations.
The prime minister had initially refused protesters’ demands for talks on live television but abruptly reversed course on Sunday “to restore peace and minimize the chance of violence,” his office said.
He met protest leaders at an academic institute in a Bangkok suburb.
Thailand’s political crisis started in 2006 when protesters wearing yellow shirts demanded the ouster of then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whom they accused of corruption. Thaksin was toppled later that year by a military coup.