28 Mar 2010

Thailand PM agrees to meet protest leaders

8:26 pm on 28 March 2010

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has agreed to meet leaders of an anti-government protest movement in a move to defuse growing tensions and avert possible confrontation.

Mr Abhisit has repeatedly refused to call a new election, frustrating the "red shirts" who back former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

But he has agreed to meet their leaders if tens of thousands of demonstrators move away from the military base where he has been staying.

Analysts say he is unlikely to agree to their demand to dissolve parliament.

Mr Abhisit was not at the base and was attending a meeting of his Democrat Party in the seaside town of Hua Hin.

"To bring back the peace and to avoid possible violence and confrontation, the prime minister has accepted the protesters' proposal to talk," Prime Minister's Office Minister Sathit Wongnongtoey told local television.

After two weeks of peaceful rallies, the "red shirts" have stepped up their campaign to topple the government.

They were close to entering the compound of Mr Abhisit's office on Saturday after forcing thousands of troops to pack up and leave eight sites around the city.

The intensification of the rally came two days after ousted former premier Thaksin, their assumed leader, called for a campaign of "civil disobedience".

The threat of unrest and a slew of non-fatal grenade attacks and small bombings have left the city of 15 million people on edge.

No one has claimed responsibility for any of the attacks.

Twelve soldiers and four civilians were wounded in attacks on three state or army-run television stations and the military base where Mr Abhisit had sought refuge.