Thai premier: No quick end to political impasse

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Associated Press

Posted on December 7, 2013 at 6:32 AM

Updated Saturday, Dec 7 at 7:37 AM

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand's prime minister said Saturday that she will not cling to power and that she is ready to resign and dissolve Parliament if all parties agree to hold new elections.

But Yingluck Shinawatra acknowledged that the leader of the country's biggest anti-government demonstrations in years has rejected all of those things, and said she sees no quick end to her country's deep political impasse. The only way forward, she said, is to talk.

"Our door is still open" to dialogue, Yingluck said in an interview with a small group of foreign journalists at her office at Bangkok's ornate Government House, a target of protesters who briefly swept into the compound just a few days earlier.

Thailand has been hit repeatedly by bouts of political turmoil, many of them violent, since the army overthrew then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's older brother, in a 2006 coup. At least five people have died and at least 289 have been injured in the latest unrest, which began in early November and has included repeated clashes with security forces. The violence eased last week ahead of birthday celebrations to honor King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who turned 86 on Thursday.

The protesters are led by former lawmaker Suthep Thaugsuban, who has vowed to overthrow Yingluck's government, accusing it of widespread corruption, incompetence, and of effectively buying the votes of millions of people through a series of government assistance programs.

Suthep represents the traditional Thai elite, a loose confederation of royalists, top bureaucrats, businesspeople and high-ranking military officers. He is demanding the creation of a non-elected "People's Council" that would replace Yingluck's administration, which swept into power in a landslide election two years ago. Yingluck's brother has lived in self-imposed exile since 2008, fleeing charges of corruption and abuse of power, though he remains immensely powerful and is believed to be involved in most major government decisions.

Yingluck said Saturday that she was open to new elections. "We don't have any resistance about resigning or dissolving Parliament," she said.

But Suthep has said that the prime minister's resignation would not be enough to end the crisis. He has also rejected any new election because he knows the opposition would likely be soundly defeated. Various incarnations of Yingluck's party, which has massive support among poor and rural voters, have won every election the country has held since 2001.

The prime minister said that the crisis does not appear to be nearing an end, but that "it might not last long" if the parties begin serious negotiations.

There is no sign, though, of that happening. On Friday, Suthep urged his followers to turn out en masse Monday for what he said would be a final showdown, raising more fears of violence after several days of calm.

Security officials said Saturday that they would re-erect multiple layers of barricades around Government House before Monday's protests, and that rings of soldiers and police — none carrying weapons — would also be deployed.

Last week, the government helped defuse the protests by taking down those barricades and allowing protesters into many government compounds.

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Associated Press writer Todd Pitman contributed to this report.

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