Anti-government protesters in Bangkok have said they will scale back their presence in the streets.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said in his nightly speech on Friday that the protesters would withdraw from several stages erected at key intersections around Bangkok. Starting on Monday they would consolidate at Lumpini Park, a central venue that has become a traditional protest site.
Political violence escalated in the past week with almost nightly grenade attacks and the deaths of four children last weekend in attacks on protest sites, reports The Guardian on Saturday.
Twenty-three people have been killed and hundreds wounded in connection with the protests that have sought since November the resignation of Yingluck Shinawatra’s government and its replacement with an unelected council. In response the prime minister’s supporters have ratcheted up threats to take to the streets and even resist with arms any attempt to topple the government.
Suthep described the planned move as a token of appreciation for Bangkok residents putting up with the inconvenience, saying his People’s Democratic Reform Committee acted not because the government sought to chase them out “but because we care about Bangkok and would like to return it to its owners”.
Actions to shut down government offices and disrupt businesses controlled by Yingluck’s family would continue, he said.
Thailand has seen political conflict since 2006 when then-PM Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother, was ousted by a military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. Thaksin’s supporters and opponents have since taken to the streets for extended periods in a power struggle.
Suthep’s announcement came a day after he made a highly conditional offer to negotiate with Yingluck, shifting from the absolute refusal he maintained for months. Yingluck, who is in northern Thailand, responded that her government wants negotiations but that the protesters must stop blocking elections and other constitutional processes, and that it was her duty to defend democracy.
Yingluck called early elections soon after the protest picked up steam but the polls held in early February were disrupted by protesters and remain incomplete. Several districts are holding a rerun on Sunday. The recent violence led for louder calls for negotiations both from inside Thailand and from overseas.
The politically powerful army commander, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, said on Friday: “It’s the issue that both of them have to talk about and today there are several groups who have suggested solutions, as well as other groups who want to take part.
“Everything must go step-by-step. Whether the military will take part, it depends, but right now we are playing the role of providing security and protecting the overall stability of the country.”
Striking a note of conciliation, Prayuth told reporters: “It’s normal for negotiators to have conditions. In every case where there’s a conflict, each side has their own conditions, but if they can adjust to one another then there can be compromise and they can talk, but it cannot be finished in one day.”
The US secretary of state, John Kerry, called for an end to the “politically motivated violence” and urged authorities to investigate the attacks in which three children died in Bangkok and in eastern Thailand last weekend. No one has been prosecuted for the violence of the past months.
“The death of several innocent children is particularly horrifying and must be a last wake-up call to all sides to refrain from violence, exercise restraint and respect the rule of law,” Kerry said in a statement from Washington.
Although the protests have failed to meet several self-proclaimed deadlines for success, pressure has been increasing on Yingluck from other quarters. She faces several legal challenges that could force her from office and has to contend with a judiciary which has a record of hostility towards her and her political allies.
Thailand’s anti-graft commission on Thursday had her legal representatives hear charges of negligence for allegedly mishandling a government rice subsidy programme. Yingluck could eventually face impeachment by the country’s senate or criminal charges if an anti-corruption commission delivers a final ruling against her.