Thai Prime Minister Says No Plans For Martial Law

BANGKOK — Thailand's prime minister said Sunday that he had no plans to declare martial law despite growing demands the government take firmer measures to end protests that have paralyzed parts of Bangkok for seven weeks.

BANGKOK — Thailand's prime minister said Sunday that he had no plans to declare martial law despite growing demands the government take firmer measures to end protests that have paralyzed parts of Bangkok for seven weeks.

In a small concession, the demonstrators on Sunday shifted their tire barricades away from a hospital on the edge of their encampment in a move intended to allow the medical facility to reopen.

Many Thais have grown increasingly frustrated with the stalemate, which has claimed the lives of at least 27 people, cost the country tens of millions of dollars, and sparked concerns of a flare-up of civil unrest.

In an emergency meeting Sunday, the Cabinet approved special funding for the police to contain the demonstrators. Ahead of the meeting, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said the government had a plan for ending the crisis — but he declined to say what it was.

"I insist that the government has a clear approach," he said in his weekly television address. "All responsibilities rest with me. Every decision has been made. At the moment it's at the stage of execution for the most successful outcome."

Abhisit did not elaborate on what those decisions were, though he expressed willingness to make some compromises.

"Those violating the law must cease, whereas the government should not ignore the political demands," he said.

The Red Shirts, who view the government as an illegitimate puppet of Bangkok's urban elite and the military, are demanding Abhisit resign, dissolve Parliament and call new elections.

Abhisit has publicly suspended talks with the protesters but says he still hopes a political solution will persuade the thousands of so-called Red Shirts to abandon the barricaded encampment they have set up in the streets of the capital. He has not ruled out a crackdown, which would almost certainly add to the bloodshed.

But Abhisit said Sunday he was reluctant to give in to demands from a group of pro-establishment protesters who have called for a declaration of martial law.

"So far, from what we have discussed, we (the government and the army) think that the situation doesn't warrant martial law," he said.

The Red Shirts said they would ignore any declaration of martial law anyway.

"Even if they announce that, we are not going to go home, we are going to stay put," said Nattawut Saikua, a Red Shirt leader.

The Red Shirts drew intense criticism last week after raiding Chulalongkorn Hospital on the edge of their protest site, prompting medical officials to evacuate it of patients.

On Sunday, the demonstrators dismantled the barricade blocking access to the hospital and rebuilt it about 50 yards (meters) away, on the other side of the entrance to the facility. Police then used a crane to assemble a short barrier of concrete blocks in front of the new barricade, effectively fortifying the protest camp.

Maj. Gen. Vichai Sangparpai, a top police official, said the blocks were intended to keep the protesters away from the hospital, which was guarded Sunday by large groups of police officers.

Nattawut Saikua, a Red Shirt leader, said the raid on the hospital was a mistake.

"(We) have to apologize for what has happened," he said. "I would like the government to take responsibility for several incidents the same way the protesters did for the Chulalongkorn Hospital case."

Since the Red Shirts moved into Bangkok in mid-March, there have been several clashes between protesters and security forces. With negotiations between the protesters and the government on hold and hopes for a peaceful end to the standoff dwindling, calls have grown for international mediation.

The International Crisis Group think tank said Saturday that Thailand's political system had broken down and expressed fears the standoff could "deteriorate into an undeclared civil war."

Source: AP