Sat, Mar 01, 2014 - Page 4 News List

Thai minister rejects call for talks by protest leader

COMBATIVE SPEECH:Suthep Thaugsuban blamed the prime minister for attacks on protesters last weekend in which five people were killed, four of them children

Reuters, BANGKOK

An anti-government protester cheers protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban during a rally on Silom Road in Bangkok, Thailand, yesterday.

Photo: EPA

A senior Thai minister rejected a proposal for talks from the leader of an anti-government protest movement yesterday as demonstrators continued to rally at ministries to put pressure on Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to step down.

Thai protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban had suggested that he and Yingluck should hold a televised debate.

“Yingluck is the legitimate leader of the country and Suthep is a man with warrants for his arrest who heads an illegal movement. The prime minister should not talk to Suthep,” said Thai Labor Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung, who oversees a state of emergency imposed last month. “Suthep is only proposing negotiations, even though he dismissed them before, because protest numbers are dwindling.”

The protesters have blocked big intersections in the capital, Bangkok, since the middle of January and forced many ministries to close as part of a four-month campaign to push out Yingluck and eradicate the political influence of her brother, former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, seen as the real power in Thailand.

Violence is on the increase, with almost daily gun and grenade attacks around protest sites by unidentified people, and 23 people have been killed since November last year. Calls for talks between the two sides are growing.

Suthep’s offer to debate on Thursday came after weeks of refusing to talk.

However, in a speech to supporters later, he showed his more combative side, blaming Yingluck for attacks on protesters last weekend in which five people were killed, including four children.

“You have murdered four young, innocent children, Yingluck,” he said, challenging her supporters in the rural north and northeast of the country to a fight in the capital. “Come to Bangkok and try to start a civil war. Let’s see who can assemble more people, come on.”

Yingluck, speaking from the northern city of Chiang Mai, gave a guarded response to the idea of a debate.

“The talks have to have a framework, though I am not sure what that framework would look like, but many parties have to be involved because I alone cannot answer on behalf of the Thai people,” she said on Thursday.

The crisis broadly pits members of Bangkok’s middle class and southern opposition supporters, backed by the royalist establishment, against the largely rural supporters of Yingluck and Thaksin.

After a period of calm following Yingluck’s election win in 2011, opposition swelled when her government tried to push through an amnesty that would have let Thaksin return from exile without having to serve a jail sentence for graft.

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