Thai protesters welcome PM's offer, want details

BANGKOK — Thai anti-government protesters said Tuesday they "welcome" a proposed compromise to end the violent political crisis that has paralyzed central Bangkok for nearly two months, but asked for more details on the plan before wrapping up their demonstrations.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva proposed holding new elections on Nov. 14 in exchange for the Red Shirt protesters dismantling the camp they have set up in the middle of the Thai capital. The standoff and related clashes have killed 27 people, wounded almost 1,000 and further polarized a country that has seen a string of chaotic political protests over the past five years.

The Red Shirt leaders met Tuesday to discuss the five-point plan and "unanimously welcomed the reconciliation process," said Veera Musigapong, a protest leader.

He did not say, however, when they would disperse from the streets of Bangkok, and other leaders called on the government to clarify some details of the plan, including the election date.

"We want to negotiate. All of us unanimously agree that we must enter into negotiations and we want to save a lot of lives. However, we want a little bit of sincerity," said Sean Boonpracong, a protest spokesman.

The protesters said they wanted clarification on the timeframe for the election, asked for unspecified confidence-building gestures from the government and demanded the monarchy not be used as a weapon in the confrontation.

The government, in recent days, has accused the protesters of being anti-monarchy, a weighty accusation in a nation where the king is beloved and disparaging the royal family is a crime.

"Stop using the issue of overthrowing the monarchy. You are dragging (down) the institution that is loved by Thais for political reasons. Stop that," Sean said.

Thailand's political heavyweights had earlier pushed all sides in the crippling stalemate to mark a royal holiday Wednesday with reconciliation.

Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a 2006 coup and is a hero to the Red Shirts, said in a phone call to reporters that Coronation Day — which marks the day revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej was officially crowned — should mark a positive new beginning and the end of fighting among Thais.

"Therefore, if there is going to be a good beginning for reconciliation, that's a good thing. But everyone must not try to take petty political advantages, because nobody is anybody's fool," he said from his self-imposed exile abroad where he is avoiding a corruption conviction.

He said it was up the Red Shirts to decide for themselves whether to accept Abhisit's plan.

Chavalit Yongchaiyuth, chairman of the opposition Pheu Thai party allied with Thaksin, praised the prime minister's plan and said he believed the Red Shirt protesters would end their protest on Coronation Day.

Chavalit said he expects that "all sides will cooperate to bring the country back to peace."

There was no immediate reaction from the government to the Red Shirts' comments. Abhisit has said he would proceed with his reconciliation plan even if the protesters reject it, but in that case he could not set a date for the elections.

The protesters — a mixture of rural and urban poor, as well as those who opposed the 2006 coup and later court rulings seen by many as politically motivated — claim Abhisit came to power illegitimately in December 2008 with the help of army pressure on legislators. They have previously called for Parliament to be dissolved in 30 days or less. An election must be held within 60 days of Parliament being dissolved.

Abhisit has said he wants enough time in office to pass a budget for next year. But both sides also want to be in control of the government when a key reshuffle of top military posts occurs in September so they can influence the outcome.

Abhisit made his compromise offer in a speech Monday night broadcast on all television channels.

The five point plan called for respect for the monarchy, reforms to solve economic injustices, free but responsible media to be overseen by an independent watchdog agency, independent investigations into violence connected with the protests and amending the constitution to make it more fair to all political parties.

The plan, which Abhisit said took into account the main grievances of the protesters, was his first real effort to reach out to his opponents after several weeks of treating their protests as mainly a security problem and accusing "terrorists" in their ranks of being responsible for the deadly violence.

Associated Press writers Grant Peck, Jocelyn Gecker, Ravi Nessman and Denis D. Gray contributed to this report.