03/29/2010, 00.00
THAILAND
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Government and “red shirts” meet to discuss the political crisis gripping the country

by Weena Kowitwanij
PM Abhisit Vejjajiva meets protest leader to find an agreed solution to the crisis. Anti-government demonstrators demand the dissolution of parliament and fresh elections within two weeks. The prime minister wants to amend the 2007 constitution first.
Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and opposition leaders have begun two days of meetings to solve the country’s political crisis. The first direct talks were held yesterday, on live TV, but ended without an agreement.

Anti-government demonstrators led by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) have peacefully occupied some streets of the capital Bangkok for more than two weeks. They want parliament to be dissolved and new elections to be called. Unless their demands are met, they are prepared to continue their protest non-stop.

The “red shirts” are loyal to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is currently in exile. They claim the Abhisit administration is illegitimate because it came to power following a coup that overthrew Thaksin.

“We want to be a witness to the fact that different ideas can peacefully coexisting on the basis of reason to solve mutual problems,” the prime minister said before the first round of talks began

Yesterday’s direct meeting lasted three hours and saw three opposition leader, including UDD chief Veera Musikhapong, come face to face with three government members, including Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

For protest leaders, the crisis is rooted in the military coup of September 2006, which overthrew Thaksin, creating deep divisions within Thai society.

“We want the prime minister to dissolve parliament within two weeks and call new elections,” Musikhapong said.

“It is better to amend the 2007 constitution” and then “lay down guidelines for new elections,” the prime minister replied. “If dissolving parliament could solve our problems, I would do it,” he added.

Analysts as well as Thailand’s religious and political leaders are closely monitored talks between government and opposition.

“If both parties want to bring peace to the country, they must focus on the common good,” said Kotom Araya, director of the Research and Peace Development Centre at Mahidol University.

A recent public opinion poll found that 74.4 per cent of respondents did not believe that dissolving parliament would solve the crisis unless both sides agree elections rules.

“We should not put a deadline on parliament. If we elect a new government under the 2007 constitution, controversy will re-emerge,” said Parinda Theavanaruemitkul, deputy dean of Thammasat University.

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