WRAPUP 4-Thai PM rejects protesters’ peace offer

* Prime minister rejects red-shirts’ demands for elections

* Thousands of red-shirts still in Bangkok shopping district

* Protesters threaten to lay siege to major department store

(Recasts with PM rejecting protesters’ offer)

By Jason Szep and Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat

BANGKOK, April 24 (BestGrowthStock) – Thai Prime Minister Abhisit
Vejjajiva on Saturday a rejected a new, compromise offer by
anti-government red-shirt demonstrators to end weeks of
increasingly violent protests in return for early polls.

The red-shirted supporters of ousted former premier Thaksin
Shinawatra immediately removed their offer to end a three-week
occupation of Bangkok’s ritzy shopping area if the government
dissolved parliament and announced elections in 30 days.

Abhisit said the peace overture looked insincere and
designed only to improve the protesters’ image. “They keep
saying they will escalate the situation. That’s why the
government cannot consider the proposal,” he told reporters.

The mostly rural and working-class red-shirts responded by
threatening more aggressive measures, including laying siege to
Central World (CPN.BK: ), the second-largest shopping complex in
Southeast Asia, next to the stage at their main protest site.

“If you want Central World shopping mall back safely, you
must withdraw army forces out of the nearby Rajaprasong area
immediately,” a protest leader Jatuporn Prompan told supporters.

The shopping centre has been closed since the protesters
occupied the area on April 3.

The risk of violence remains high after a series of grenade
blasts that killed one person and wounded 88 on Thursday in
Bangkok’s business district, an attack the government blamed on
the red-shirts, who deny they were responsible.

As part of their demands, the red-shirts also want an
independent probe into an April 10 clash between protesters and
the army that killed 25 people and wounded more than 800 in
Thailand’s worst political violence in nearly two decades.

Thousands of troops, many armed with M-16 assault rifles,
keep watch over red-shirts at several city intersections.
Royalist pro-government protesters often gather outside their
fortress-like barricade, sparking clashes in which both sides
hurl bottles and insults.

Jatuporn encouraged some protesters to do away with their
signature red shirts to make it more difficult to separate them
in the capital city of 15 million people. “We will take off our
red shirt and wear other colours, but our goal and our ideals
are still the same,” he said.

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RISK OF CRACKDOWN

Tens of thousands of red-shirts remain encamped at the
central Bangkok shopping district, vowing to stay until
parliament is dissolved and defying a state of emergency that
bans large gatherings of protesters.

“This hardening of the battle lines between the two sides
does not bode well for Bangkok’s security situation and a risk
of another, and this time maybe even more violent, crackdown is
immediate,” risk consultancy IHS Global Insight said in a note.

The military says the crowd includes “terrorists” willing to
use violence to bring down the government and overturn the
monarchy and wants to go after them, not peaceful protesters.

“We’re ready to wipe out terrorists and we’ll do it at an
appropriate time,” army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said.

“We need to make sure very few innocent people are there
before doing anything.”

Analysts say the protests are radically different from any
other period of unrest in Thailand’s polarising five-year
political crisis — and arguably in modern Thai history, pushing
the nation close to an undeclared civil war.

Diplomats and analysts say the army’s middle ranks look
dangerously split with one faction backing the protesters led by
retired generals allied with Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006
coup and later sentenced in absentia for corruption.

The red-shirts say British-born and Oxford-educated Abhisit
came to power illegitimately in December 2008, heading a
coalition the military cobbled together after courts dissolved a
pro-Thaksin party that led the previous government.

They chafe at what they say is an unelected elite preventing
allies of twice-elected Thaksin from returning to power through
a vote. Thaksin lives in self-imposed exile, mostly in Dubai.

The United Nations and foreign governments have urged both
sides of the political divide to show restraint.

The central bank in Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy
said this week the crisis was hitting confidence, tourism,
private consumption and investment. Ratings agency Fitch has cut
its outlook on Thailand’s local currency because of the strife.

A powerful backlash against the red-shirts is also growing
among Bangkok’s royalist establishment. A pro-government group
calling themselves “multi-coloured shirts” have begun daily
rallies in the capital demanding the red-shirts go home.
(Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by
Louise Ireland)

WRAPUP 4-Thai PM rejects protesters’ peace offer