WRAPUP 7-No end in sight as Thai protesters refuse to leave

* Government has done its best, says spokesman

* Protest leaders want deputy PM to face charges

* Early election to end crisis in doubt as standoff
persists

* Protesters cannot make their own conditions, PM says
(Adds Prime Minister’s comments)

By Ambika Ahuja and Chalathip Thirasoonthrakul

BANGKOK, May 11 (BestGrowthStock) – Thai protesters refused on
Tuesday to call off demonstrations that have paralysed
Bangkok’s commercial heart and stifled the economy, while the
government said it had done all it could to reach a deal.

That leaves few options for ending mass protests by
Thailand’s rural and urban poor that have sparked a two-month
crisis in which 29 people have been killed and more than 1,000
wounded in the country’s worst political violence in 18 years.

The anti-government “red shirts” accepted on Monday a
timetable for a Nov. 14 election proposed by Prime Minister
Abhisit Vejjajiva but also set a new condition: Deputy Prime
Minister Suthep Thaugsuban must face prosecution over a clash
with troops in April that killed 25 people.

Abhisit rejected the conditions and said the protesters
should leave by Wednesday, warning that his government had the
right to “take necessary action” if they refused to leave.

“If the protesters want to enter a reconciliation process,
they can’t make conditions, they have to end their protest,”
Abhisit told reporters.

“If they insist on these small points, it won’t be over,
either they accept it or they don’t. The people have seen
enough trouble already.”

Suthep, chief of security during the protests, went to the
Department of Special Investigation on Tuesday to hear
complaints filed against him by relatives of some of those
killed, but the protesters said he must face formal criminal
charges before they would agree to leave the city’s main
shopping district.
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“We are not going anywhere until the government shows they
will take responsibility for the clash,” said 39-year-old
protester Panna Saengkumboon. “People lost their eyes, their
legs and arms. Others paid for this with their lives.”

Fresh supplies including vegetables, meat and bottled water
were piled up under a large tent in front of the shuttered Four
Seasons Hotel, in a sign that the protesters had no immediate
plans to leave.

Disparate views among red shirt leaders, ranging from
radical former communists to dovish academics, make it
difficult to reach a decision on how to end the demonstrations.

Some leaders harbour political ambitions and need to
appease rank-and-file supporters. Others fear ending the
protest now would be a one-way ticket to jail. Some hardliners
advocate stepping up the protests to win the fight once and for
all.

Fuelling talk of a split, one of their most respected and
moderate figures, Veera Muksikapong, has disappeared from
public view for two days. Some red shirt leaders said Veera,
who the government has tried to court in the past, has been
ill.

The red shirts, who broadly support ousted former Prime
Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, have been demonstrating since
mid-March, at first demanding immediate elections. They say the
ruling coalition has no mandate after coming to power in a
parliamentary vote 17 months ago orchestrated by the army.

More than 20 protest leaders face criminal charges ranging
from violating a state of emergency to weapons possession and
assaulting security officers. Some face more serious charges
under terrorism statutes punishable by up to 20 years in jail.

Red shirt leaders want the head of the government to face
terrorism charges as well.

“They are trying to force the police to formally charge
government officials,” said Tanet Charoengmuang, a political
scientist at Chiang Mai University. “Essentially, they refuse
to go down alone and take all the blame.”

ECONOMIC DAMAGE

On April 10, troops clashed with protesters in a chaotic
gun battle in Bangkok’s old quarter. Twenty civilians and five
soldiers were killed.

“(Suthep) has to answer the summons and then we will call
off the protest,” said one of the leaders, Weng Tojirakarn.

There are precedents for senior officials to face criminal
charges in this way. Cases can then be bogged down for years in
Thailand’s labyrinthine legal system, but such a scenario could
offer a way out for all sides.

Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said it was the
Department of Special Investigation’s job to handle all cases
tied to the protests. He said the government “has done its
best” to satisfy the red shirts’ demands.

The red shirts’ campaign has paralysed an upmarket Bangkok
commercial district, where thousands of protesters remained
camped behind barricades of sharpened bamboo staves and tyres,
and hammered the lucrative leisure and tourist sector.

“Thailand has been an unfortunate disappointment,” said
Nash Benjamin, chief executive of Singapore retailer FJ
Benjamin (FJBN.SI: ), which runs a La Senza and two Celine
franchises in Bangkok and may close one or two of the shops.

“We don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel,” he
said.
Investing Basics

(Additional reporting by Ploy Ten Kate and Pracha
Hariraksapitak in BANGKOK and Kevin Lim in SINGAPORE; Writing
by Alex Richardson; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

WRAPUP 7-No end in sight as Thai protesters refuse to leave