Thai military hosts forum on political crisis

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

BANGKOK -- Thailand's armed forces took center stage in the country's ongoing political drama, showing off its gentler side by hosting a forum over the weekend to allow the leader of a protest movement to present his demand for an immediate change of government.

The military did not indicate whether it would act on the protesters' behalf during the Saturday forum. And protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban repeated his position that caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra must step down and an interim, non-elected government administer the country before any new polls are held. An election has been called for February.

The government hosted its own separate forum Sunday billed as a brainstorming session "to get a roadmap for the way forward" with senior officials, politicians, lawmakers, academics and others.

In a sign of the continued divisions in the country, Suthep and his "People's Democratic Reform Committee" said they would snub the event as did the main opposition Democrat Party, which has backed the protests.

Supreme Commander General Thanasak Patimaprakorn was the official host of Saturday's forum, distancing the proceedings from the real power broker — army commander General Prayuth Chan-ocha, who declined to make any comments.

Suthep stuck to his demands and urged the military to back him, saying he was not calling for a coup, but that "if you make a decision soon, the people will see you as a hero of the people, and we can solve the problem."

Thanasak said the sides must reach a "solution that fixes everything for the long term, and does not return things to the same cycle."

In 1992, the army shot dead dozens of pro-democracy demonstrators protesting a military-backed government in the streets of Bangkok, the capital, and in 2010 the bloodshed repeated in quashing another uprising.

The army's 2006 coup against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's brother, was followed by the installation of an inept interim government. The coup also polarized the country, which has seen Thaksin's supporters and opponents contending for power ever since, sometimes violently.

Suthep and his group want new laws to banish corruption in politics to be implemented ahead of any election. The protesters said Thai politics are hopelessly corrupt under the alleged continuing influence of Thaksin, who has lived in self-imposed exile since 2008 to avoid jail time on a corruption charge.

Yingluck has dissolved parliament to call elections for February 2.

Saturday's forum was also attended by the leaders of various military branches. (AP)

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