Thai Minister Rejects Proposal for Talks from Protest Leader

TEHRAN (Tasnim) - A senior Thai minister rejected a proposal for talks from the leader of an anti-government protest movement on Friday as demonstrators rallied at ministries to put pressure on Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to step down.

Thai Minister Rejects Proposal for Talks from Protest Leader

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban had suggested that he and Yingluck should hold a televised debate.

"Yingluck is the legitimate leader of the country and Suthep is a man with warrants for his arrest who heads an illegal movement. The prime minister should not talk to Suthep," said Labour Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung, who oversees a state of emergency imposed last month.

"Suthep is only proposing negotiations, even though he dismissed them before, because protest numbers are dwindling."

The protesters have blocked big intersections in the capital, Bangkok, since mid-January and forced many ministries to close as part of a four-month campaign to push out Yingluck and eradicate the political influence of her brother, ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, seen as the real power in Thailand.

Violence is on the increase, with almost daily gun and grenade attacks around protest sites by unidentified people, and 23 people have been killed since November, Reuters reported.

Thailand's powerful army chief, asked by reporters on Friday whether the violence would trigger a military coup, remained noncommittal and expressed exasperation at the same question being put to him all the time.

"We must not discuss this every day," he said. "I can't promise whether there will be a coup or not."

Protest leader Suthep's debate offer on Thursday came after weeks of refusing to talk.

However, in a speech to supporters later, he showed his more combative side, blaming Yingluck for weekend attacks on protesters in which five people were killed, including four children.

"You have murdered four young, innocent children, Yingluck," he said, challenging her supporters in the rural north and northeast of the country to a fight in the capital.

"Come to Bangkok and try to start a civil war," he said. "Let's see who can assemble more people, come on."

Yingluck, speaking from the northern city of Chiang Mai, gave a guarded response to the idea of a debate.

"The talks have to have a framework, though I am not sure what that framework would look like," she said on Thursday.

Talk of a possible civil war has picked up recently.

"I don't think it will get that bad. Thais are hot-blooded...so we must control the situation using the law," Prayuth said.

The crisis broadly pits members of Bangkok's middle-class and southern opposition supporters, backed by the royalist establishment, against the largely rural supporters of Yingluck and Thaksin.

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