Thai protesters agree to talks to end violence

Thai anti-government protesters agreed on Tuesday to talks brokered by a Senate leader to end Thailand’s deadliest political crisis in nearly two decades and halt spiralling violence that has killed 38 people in five days.

Troops have surrounded thousands of anti-government demonstrators in the fortified camp they have occupied since April 3 in central Bangkok. Pockets of violence have erupted in several other parts of the capital in recent days.

“We have agreed to take a new round of talks proposed by the Senate because if we allow things to go on like this, we don’t know how many more lives will be lost,” Nattawut Saikua, one of the “Red Shirt” leaders, told a news conference.

The talks would be led by a group of 64 senators who offered to mediate with the protesters and want a ceasefire on both sides.

The government’s response to the offer was not immediately known, but Nattawut, speaking inside the protesters’ fortified camp, said it was in the interests of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to seek a negotiated end to the unrest.

“There has never been a prime minister that could secure victory by killing people. That could only be achieved through winning the hearts and minds of the people,” he said.

An estimated 5 000 of the Red Shirts remain in a camp covering three square kilometres of an upmarket shopping district, set up as part of a movement that began in mid-March with the aim of toppling the government and forcing elections.

The authorities had warned them to leave by 3pm local time on Monday, but the deadline passed without action being taken.

Hundreds of women and children took refuge in a temple inside the protest area, but some protesters fought with soldiers in areas around the camp.

Red Shirt leaders have previously proposed a ceasefire and talks moderated by the United Nations, which the government dismissed.
On Monday, they said they would accept talks as long as a neutral arbiter took part and troops withdrew.

“The government cannot entertain demands from the protesters,” said Korbsak Sabhavasu, a senior aide to the prime minister earlier on Tuesday.

“The best way forward is to stop talking about negotiation and for the protest leaders to call their people back to the Rachaprasong rally area and stop the violence,” he added.—Reuters

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