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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Asia

Thai crisis meeting ends without conclusion

AFP | Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Thai army leader General Prayut Chan-O-Cha (centre) arriving for a meeting between warring political rivals at the Army club in Bangkok.

BANGKOK - Thailand's military hosted ground-breaking talks Wednesday between warring political rivals after the army chief imposed martial law to prevent the deeply divided kingdom degenerating into another "Ukraine or Egypt".

The opposing camps and other top officials met for more than two hours under heavy guard in Bangkok in what one hardline supporter of the elected government called a "good" atmosphere.

There was no breakthrough at the talks chaired by army leader General Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who invoked martial law Tuesday, and another meeting was called for Thursday at 2pm.

"Everybody agreed to consider other groups' suggestions to find a joint solution for our country," said army spokeswoman Sirichan Ngathong, adding that 40 people attended.

"It's the first time that they talked to each other in person," she added.

Prayut brought the two sides together as US-led pressure grew for civilian control to be restored amid concern that the move by the military, which has intervened repeatedly in politics down the decades, posed a grave threat to democracy in Southeast Asia's largest economy.

The meeting included top officials of the ruling and opposition parties and of the election commission and Senate, as well as the heads of the pro- and anti-government protest camps.

'Good atmosphere'

"The atmosphere at the meeting was good. At least we had a chance to talk to each other," Thida Thavornseth, a core leader of the "Red Shirt" movement that supports the beleaguered current government, told AFP.

But she added: "I don't know whether we can come up with anything concrete tomorrow." Caretaker Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, who replaced Yingluck Shinawatra after a controversial court ruling ousted her this month, did not attend but was represented by five cabinet ministers, a government official told AFP.

Niwattumrong has called for fresh elections on August 3.

But the opposition wants vaguely defined reforms first to tackle graft and has vowed to stay on the streets until it has eradicated the influence of the "regime" it says is led from abroad by Yingluck's self-exiled elder brother Thaksin Shinawatra, also a former prime minister.

Prayut, 60, has said he invoked martial law to prevent political tensions spiralling out of control following months of deadly anti-government protests, and insists he intends to broker a solution, but critics have branded his actions a de facto coup.

"I will not allow Thailand to be like Ukraine or Egypt," Prayut said Tuesday, according to remarks released by the military.

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