BANGKOK, Thailand — The Thai government rejected a proposal Tuesday for peace talks with leaders of the Red Shirt protesters to end the deadly mayhem gripping Bangkok, saying negotiations cannot start until the protesters disperse.
Cabinet minister Satit Wonghnongtaey quoted the prime minister as saying that “the situation will end only when the protest stops.”
Tuesday’s televised comments came in response to an offer made earlier in the day by Red Shirt protest leaders, who said they would unconditionally accept an offer by the country’s Senate to mediate talks to end five days of deadly violence in the Thai capital.
Their acceptance was significant, since they had previously set conditions for any talks.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva called the Senate speaker to convey the government’s position, Satit said.
At least 37 people were killed over five days of rioting and clashes in downtown sections of Bangkok, paralyzing parts of the capital and destabilizing a country regarded as one of Southeast Asia’s strongest democracies.
Scattered clashes continued between soldiers and the anti-government Red Shirts, though confrontations appeared less intense than in previous days.
The military defended its use of deadly but limited force, saying troops only fired to protect themselves and Bangkok’s citizens and did not pursue pre-emptive attacks.
“If they don’t move close to us, there won’t be any losses,” army spokesman Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd said. He also accused the Red Shirts of using a young child as a human shield, holding him up above a barricade in the streets.
The government announced that a two-day public holiday was being extended to Friday because of the security situation.
The Red Shirts have for a month occupied a 1-square-mile (3-square-kilometre) chunk of downtown Bangkok’s toniest real estate, camping in the streets next to shuttered five-star hotels and upscale shopping malls.
The protesters, many of whom hail from the impoverished north and northeast, are demanding that Abhisit dissolve Parliament and call early elections. They say the current administration came to power through manipulation of the courts and the backing of the powerful military, and that it goes against results of a 2007 election to restore democracy after a military coup.