Thai red shirts ready to talk

Thai anti-government protesters
occupying an upmarket shopping area of Bangkok said they were open to talks
through a third party to prevent bloody clashes with armed troops threatening
to forcibly evict them.

The supporters of ousted former
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said a crackdown was imminent and they were
now willing to reconsider their demands for a snap election.

“We are open to talks to end the
crisis, but not with the government,” one of the red shirt leaders, Jaran Jaran
Ditthapicha, told reporters.

Another red shirt leader, Kwanchai
Praina said he would propose during a meeting of the group’s leaders that they
consider a three-month timeframe for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to dissolve
parliament. “We believe a crackdown is coming before 25 April and we need to
make a compromise,” he said.

The government did not respond to
the idea of talks through a third party, but repeated its willingness to talk
directly at any time.

“The prime minister is willing
to sit down and talk about this, the conditions for holding an election and
amending the constitution,” said government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn.

Talks between Abhisit and “red
shirt” leaders late last month collapsed after two rounds, with protesters
refusing to accept an offer by the premier to dissolve the house within nine

The “red shirts” refused to resume
dialogue with what they called a “murderous” government after 25 people were
killed and more than 800 wounded in 10 April clashes between troops and

Their latest comments came amid
boiling tensions in downtown Bangkok. Groups of “red shirts” gathered just 50
metres away from troops guarding the Silom Road commercial area.

The protest in the capital has shut
some shopping malls for almost three weeks, forced luxury hotels to close and
scared off tourists.