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THAILAND PM ABHISIT SAYS GOVERNMENT ‘REMAINS UNIFIED’

By NBF News
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Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has said his government and the military remain unified in the face of the red-shirt political protests.

He was speaking in a televised broadcast after the country's army chief said parliament should be dissolved to end the crisis.

Early elections are a central demand of the protesters, camped out in Bangkok.

Mr Abhisit also said an investigation would take place into weekend violence which left 21 people dead.

Seventeen of those killed in Saturday's violent clashes were civilians. Four policemen were killed and about 800 people were injured.

Mr Abhisit blamed “terrorists” for inciting the unrest, and stressed what he called good co-operative work between the government, the army, the police and the coalition parties.

But the remarks by the commander in chief of the armed forces, General Anupong Prachinda, that parliament could be dissolved suggests that divisions within the armed forces and the government persist, correspondents say.

'Murderers'
Early on Monday, the red-shirts paraded coffins through Bangkok.

Most of the coffins were empty, but at least two contained the bodies of demonstrators killed in clashes with the security forces.

Both sides accuse each other of firing live bullets during the confrontation.

Jatuporn Prompan, one of the red-shirts' leaders, told a rally that Mr Abhisit's hands were “bloodied” by the clashes.

“Red-shirts will never negotiate with murderers,” he announced from a makeshift stage.

“Although the road is rough and full of obstacles, it's our duty to honour the dead by bringing democracy to this country.”

The red-shirts still control important intersections in the city and are increasingly confident after withstanding the security forces' attempt to move them back, the BBC's Quentin Sommerville reports from the Thai capital.

But there was little sign of renewed clashes in the city on Monday, with shops re-opening and the rail network running again.

The red-shirts – a loose coalition of left-wing activists and supporters of former leader Thaksin Shinawatra – say Mr Abhisit came to power illegitimately in a parliamentary vote after a pro-Thaksin government was forced to step down in 2008. Mr Thaksin was ousted in a military coup in 2006.

They have been camped out in Bangkok for a month and have refused to leave until their demands are met.

A state of emergency was declared on Wednesday, days after they occupied Bangkok's commercial district, forcing shops and hotels to close.

The protests had been peaceful until late last week, when tensions rose over the government's decision to block an opposition television station.

Saturday's clashes – which erupted when troops tried to clear protesters from a downtown area – was the country's worst political violence since 1992.

Unconfirmed reports in local newspapers on Monday said political parties in the coalition government were pressuring Mr Abhisit to compromise with the protesters by dissolving parliament in the next six months instead of by the end of the year, as he had earlier promised.

A government spokesman said a line of communication was open with the red-shirts, but said organising formal talks would be “difficult”.

Mr Abhisit has already held a round of talks with the red-shirts but these ended without agreement.