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Thai leader, protesters to talk again

In a gesture of civility, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva (left) shook hands with Veera Musikapong, leader of a prodemocracy movement, at yesterday’s meeting in Bangkok. In a gesture of civility, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva (left) shook hands with Veera Musikapong, leader of a prodemocracy movement, at yesterday’s meeting in Bangkok. (Chaiwat Subprasom/ Reuters)
Associated Press / March 29, 2010

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BANGKOK — Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of Thailand and leaders of antigovernment protests failed to reach an agreement yesterday in nationally televised talks on how to solve the country’s political crisis. They said they would try again today.

The talks marked a civilized pause after weeks of demonstrations and fiery rhetoric that prompted Abhisit to seek refuge at an army base.

The two sides sat across a conference table from one another and shook hands. With strained smiles, they reiterated their sharply different stances and adjourned three hours later no closer to a resolution. They agreed to meet again tonight.

“Our request is simple and direct: Dissolve Parliament for the people to decide again,’’ said Veera Musikapong, a protest leader. He was joined by two other leaders, dressed in their signature red shirts.

A tense-looking Abhisit — accompanied by two advisers, all wearing blue dress shirts — reiterated his position that dissolving Parliament immediately would not solve Thailand’s deep political crisis.

“I have to make a decision based on a consensus from the entire country, including the Red Shirts,’’ Abhisit said.

Abhisit has repeatedly rejected the protesters’ demands that he dissolve Parliament and call new elections.

Thousands of protesters gathered in the historic heart of Bangkok awaiting direction from their leaders on how to respond if the talks failed. During more than two weeks of protests, the number of participants has peaked at more than 100,000.

The movement consists largely of supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a 2006 military coup following allegations of corruption, and prodemocracy activists who opposed the army takeover.