BANGKOK, Thailand — Thailand’s prime minister said Thursday the government was ready to hold talks with protesters, who want him to call new elections, but only if they stop throwing blood, blocking government offices and remain peaceful.
For the past week, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has been sleeping at an army base outside Bangkok to avoid mass demonstrations by anti-government protesters. Their rallies have featured shock tactics like splattering jugs of their own blood at his private home Wednesday and at the government headquarters a day earlier.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators remained encamped in the historic heart of the Thai capital Thursday, vowing to wage a “class war” until Abhisit dissolves Parliament and calls fresh elections — a demand he has repeatedly rejected.
Some of the protest’s leaders have increasingly portrayed the demonstrations as a struggle between Thailand’s impoverished, mainly rural masses and a Bangkok-based elite impervious to their plight. The group largely consists of supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a 2006 military coup for alleged corruption, and pro-democracy activists who opposed the army takeover.
Thaksin is popular among the rural poor for his populist policies. They believe Abhisit came to power illegitimately with the connivance of the military and other parts of the traditional ruling class and that only new elections can restore integrity to Thai democracy.
But Abhisit indicated that their recent antics tested the limits of the law — and were testing his patience. He reiterated the government’s stance that the protests will be allowed to continue as long as they remain peaceful.
“If demonstrators follow the rules, the government sees no problem in talking,” Abhisit told a televised news conference from the army base, which is also serving as a temporary seat of government.
Talks did not appear imminent.
A protest leader Jatuporn Prompan called Abhisit’s offer for dialogue “insincere.” He said protesters would only consider direct talks with Abhisit himself and only if demands to dissolve Parliament were met.
The so-called Red Shirt protesters stayed in their encampment Thursday after four days of mass demonstrations that have paralyzed parts of Bangkok but avoided violence, which was widely feared.
Leaders of the movement, which is formally known as the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, say a 2,000-vehicle protest through the streets of Bangkok is planned for Saturday.
“It will be the beginning of a class war,” said
The blood-spilling tactic — said to show the willingness of the common people to sacrifice themselves for their cause and their nation — grabbed attention, but put the Red Shirt movement no closer to its goal of forcing new elections.
“Actions like drawing blood, pouring it and throwing — strictly speaking are not all legal,” Abhisit said, adding that protesters were also not allowed to block city streets and prevent government employees from entering their offices.
Abhisit said some protesters who hurled blood at his home Wednesday reportedly shouted if he had been inside they would have taken “the blood from his head to wash our feet.”
“That doesn’t reflect a nonviolent approach,” Abhisit said.
More than 100,000 demonstrators converged on the capital Sunday, and organizers boasted that they would topple the government within days. But the crowd shrank Wednesday to around 40,000, according to Maj. Gen. Vichai Sangparpai, a metropolitan police commander.
Associated Press writer Thanyarat Doksone contributed to this report.