Thai premier says no plans for martial law
Associated Press Writer
BANGKOK (AP) – Thailand’s prime minister said Sunday that he had no plans to declare martial law despite growing demands the government take firmer measures to end protests that have paralyzed parts of Bangkok for seven weeks.
Many Thais have grown increasingly frustrated with the stalemate, which has claimed the lives of at least 27 people, cost the country tens of millions of dollars, and sparked concerns of a flare-up of civil unrest.
Speaking ahead of an emergency Cabinet meeting expected to address the crisis, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said the government had a plan for ending the crisis – but he declined to say what it was.
“I insist that the government has a clear approach,” he said in his weekly television address. “All responsibilities rest with me. Every decision has been made. At the moment it’s at the stage of execution for the most successful outcome.”
Abhisit did not elaborate on what those decisions were, though he expressed willingness to make some compromises.
“Those violating the law must cease, whereas the government should not ignore the political demands,” he said.
The Red Shirts, who view the government as an illegitimate puppet of Bangkok’s urban elite and the military, are demanding Abhisit resign, dissolve Parliament and call new elections.
Abhisit has publicly suspended talks with the protesters but says he still hopes a political solution will persuade the thousands of so-called Red Shirts to abandon the barricaded encampment they have set up in the streets of the capital. He has not ruled out a crackdown, which would almost certainly add to the bloodshed.
But Abhisit said Sunday he was reluctant to give in to demands from a group of pro-establishment protesters who have called for a declaration of martial law.
“So far, from what we have discussed, we (the government and the army) think that the situation doesn’t warrant martial law,” he said.
The Red Shirts said they would ignore any declaration of martial law anyway.
“Even if they announce that, we are not going to go home, we are going to stay put,” said Nattawut Saikua, a Red Shirt leader.
With negotiations between the protesters and the government on hold and hopes for a peaceful end to the standoff dwindling, calls have grown for international involvement.
The International Crisis Group think tank said Saturday that Thailand’s political system had broken down and expressed fears the standoff could “deteriorate into an undeclared civil war.”
The group appealed for foreign mediation, possibly led by East Timor President Jose Ramos Horta, to encourage both sides to stand down and help prepare for new elections and a government of national unity.
The government has repeatedly rejected efforts to bring in foreign mediators.
New York-based Human Rights Watch also called on the protesters and security forces to end the violence.
“All sides need to rein in their supporters, order the attacks to stop and negotiate a political solution before the situation escalates,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
Some officials have expressed hopes the protesters will grow weary and go home soon, but Weng Tojirakarn, another Red Shirt leader, said Saturday that reinforcements were coming to increase their presence in the streets of the capital.
The Red Shirts drew intense criticism in recent days for breaking into a hospital on the edge of the protest zone, prompting medical officials to evacuate it of patients.
The raid, which prompted the hospital to evacuate its patients, exposed a possible rift among the protest leaders, some of whom tried to make amends by removing barricades blocking the hospital only to be overruled by others who had them restored. On Saturday afternoon, they were again removed.
Abhisit said the government had ordered an operation to allow the hospital to resume functioning Sunday, but did not elaborate on what would be done.
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