Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and opponents who want him to step down were tangling yesterday over the possibility of holding talks to ease the crisis, which has brought the country's political system to a standstill.
Both sides have said they are willing to have discussions, but Thaksin's critics want such a meeting televised, while the prime minister prefers to talk first behind closed doors.
In a Thai TV interview on Friday night, Thaksin appeared to say he would be willing to debate a representative of the People's Alliance for Democracy, which has been staging street demonstrations against him, and someone from the opposition political parties, which are boycotting a snap election he called for next month.
But an executive committee member of his Thai Rak Thai Party, Suranand Vejjajiva, said yesterday that the Thai leader first wants to meet privately with his foes.
"We are quite open, but we don't want a debate style, it is too confrontational in this kind of situation," said Suranand, who is also a member of Thaksin's Cabinet. "We are willing to sit down and talk with all parties concerned, but still think it should be a closed-door session."
Suranand said such a setting could result in "fruitful discussion," and the public could be informed afterward of the results.
Thaksin's critics have insisted that any meeting be televised to ensure transparency.
The qualified offer to talk came as political tension, already high because of street protests and an election boycott directed against Thaksin, has been rising because of mystery bombings in Bangkok.
It also follows pleas from various third parties, including the top adviser to the king, for the feuding parties to ease their confrontation and hold talks with each other.
Demonstrations against Thaksin that have drawn tens of thousands of people have so far been nonviolent. Both sides have appealed for calm ahead of the snap elections set for April 2 that the opposition has vowed to boycott.
Thaksin called the polls in an effort to squelch criticism by winning a new mandate.
The movement to force Thaksin from office swelled last month after his family announced the sale of its 49.6 percent stake in telecommunications conglomerate Shin Corp to Singapore's Temasek Holdings for US$1.9 billion. The sale was the biggest ever of a publicly owned Thai company. Temasek is the investment arm of the Singapore government.
Critics of the deal allege the sale involved insider trading and tax dodges and complain that key national assets -- including communications satellites -- are now in the hands of a foreign government.
In his television interview on Thai Channel 9, Thaksin said he is ready to set up a neutral committee to investigate the deal.
"I have not done anything wrong. No one can confiscate my property," he said.
Meanwhile, the government is seeking those responsible for a small bomb that exploded on Thursday outside the home of former prime minister Prem Tinsulanonda, now the chief adviser to the Thai king.
Harmless firecracker-sized devices were also set off on Thursday night at two sites identified with the anti-Thaksin movement.
Defense Minister Thammarak Isarangura Na Ayutthaya has blamed "people with ill intentions who want the political situation to get worse."
Thaksin was re-elected a second term last year when his party won 377 of the 500 seats in the House of Representatives.