Thai government rejects UN talks with 'red shirts'

17 May 2010 - 00:39 By Reuters

Thailand took a tough stand against thousands of anti-government pro-testers yesterday, rejecting demands for UN-supervised talks and calling on their leaders to surrender after deadly clashes with troops.

Hardline comments from the Thai government doused hopes of a compromise to end three days of fighting that has killed at least 29 people, all civilians, and wounded 221, trapping residents in homes and raising the risk of a broader conflict.

Nattawut Saikai, a protest leader, called for a ceasefire and UN moderated talks: "We have no other condition. We do not want any more losses."

But the government swiftly dismissed the offer.

"If they really want to talk, they should not set conditions like asking us to withdraw troops," said Korbsak Sabhavasu, the prime minister's secretary-general.

As fighting raged in two areas of the city of 15 million people, residents hoarded food at supermarkets, stayed indoors or fled to escape neighbourhoods transformed into battlegrounds.

"Rejection of cease fire talk is very ominous," said political scientist Vienrat Nethito at Chulalongkorn University. "This pretty much guarantees fighting will continue and the city will be even closer to the brink of civil war."

The most severe fighting took place in the Bon Kai area of Rama IV, a major artery to the business district. Troops and snipers fired assault rifles as protesters hurled petrol bombs and burned walls of petrol-soaked tyres to hide themselves.

One protester was shot in the head by a sniper, a witness said. By yesterday afternoon, as clashes intensified, a grenade was tossed at troops, who responded with gunfire.

Panitan Wattanayagorn, a government spokesman, called on protest leaders to surrender and end the protest immediately.

"We will move forward. We cannot retreat now," Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said in a televised statement, encapsulating the government's mood.

Today and tomorrow were declared public holidays, but banks and financial markets will be open.

"We will not flee," Jatuporn Prompan, a protest leader, told supporters in their main protest site where at least 5000 'red shirts' remain, including women and children.

The mostly rural and urban poor protesters are supporters of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra.