PM, Red Shirts talks make no headway

BANGKOK: Live televised talks between Thailand's embattled Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and anti-government protesters today ended without resolution, failing to end two weeks of street demonstrations.

The premier refused to bow to the red-shirted demonstrators' demand to call snap elections, but both sides agreed to meet the next day at 1100 GMT to continue discussions.

"House dissolution can only happen if we see it is not only the way out for the Reds but for the whole country also," Abhisit told three Red Shirt leaders across a meeting table as he sat flanked by two of his senior staff. The Reds' Jatuporn Prompan, one of the leaders of the movement that backs deposed premier Thaksin Shinawatra, said they would return to the table tomorrow, but pressed the prime minister to meet their request within a fortnight.

"We ask you to dissolve the house within two weeks. Whatever your decision should be, if we talk tomorrow, I want you to consider this condition," Jatuporn told Abhisit.

The Reds have staged a series of mass dramatic stunts over the past two weeks in their bid to force Abhisit to call snap elections, picketing the army barracks where he is holed up and throwing their own blood at his office gates. Abhisit had ruled out talks earlier today, but made an about-face later in the day and looked visibly uneasy throughout much of the three-hour meeting with the Red Shirt leaders, held at a Bangkok educational institute.

The Red Shirts are opposed to Abhisit's Democrat-led government, accusing it of being undemocratic as it came to power on the back of a parliamentary vote that followed a controversial court ruling ousting Thaksin's allies from power.

They seek the return of the twice-elected populist Thaksin, a former telecoms tycoon, saying that the coup that ousted him in 2006 was illegal.

"If you are confident of winning an election, you should return power to the people," Jatuporn told Abhisit. Polls are due to be held by December 2011.

Tens of thousands of protesters sat at their rally ground in Bangkok's government quarter today to watch the televised talks on a giant screen, waving their signature plastic clappers as their leaders spoke.

The Reds upped the pressure on Abhisit on the weekend, threatening to march in their tens of thousands on the military barracks where he has been holed up.

Their movement is drawn largely from the country's rural poor who say the British-born Oxford-educated Abhisit is only able to lead the government's fragile six-party coalition with the powerful military's backing.