BANGKOK – BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand's prime minister said Thursday he would dissolve Parliament in September, paving the way for new elections demanded by anti-government protesters, if they end their crippling occupation of Bangkok's commercial district.
But in a sign of the deep mistrust between the opposing sides, the demonstrators said they would not go home until the government made its promise official and specified a date for the legislature's dissolution.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva also faced opposition from activists, who see his peace offering as a capitulation to the protesters.
The nearly two-month standoff in Bangkok has paralyzed vital areas of the capital, hammered the economy, decimated the tourist industry and ground government machinery to a near halt. Clashes with soldiers and other violence have killed 27 people and injured nearly 1,000.
On Monday, Abhisit unveiled a proposal that included new elections on Nov. 14 — about a year before his term would end — if the protesters left their barricaded encampment in the heart of the Thai capital. The Parliament must be dissolved at least 45 days before the elections.
Leaders of the anti-government movement, known as the Red Shirts, initially welcomed that plan, which takes into account their main grievances. It includes respect for the monarchy, reforms to resolve economic injustice, media reforms, independent investigations of violence connected with the protests, and amending the constitution to be more fair to all political parties.
But the date of the dissolution of Parliament has since become a sticking point, with the Red Shirts insisting it be specified and Abhisit saying only it would happen in time for the November election.
The timing is a crucial issue because a key reshuffle of top military posts is scheduled for September, and the protesters don't want Abhisit at the helm then. It's not clear if a caretaker government, which would run the country after Parliament is dissolved, would be allowed to make the appointments.
"If you are playing hard to get about the dissolution date, we will continue our protest," said Nattawut Saikua, a protest leader. "We can remain here for three or four months. No problem."
Meanwhile, Abhisit is insisting on the opposite order of events.
"If they don't go home, I'm not going to dissolve Parliament," Abhisit said in a live interview on ASTV. Other Thai media quoted Abhisit as saying the dissolution could take place Sept. 15 to 30.
"I repeat, I am not negotiating with anybody," Abhisit said in the interview, but added he was inviting everyone into a reconciliation process, "including the protesters."
The military holds tremendous power in Thailand, and the Red Shirts, who draw most of their supporters from the rural and urban poor, view Abhisit's government as the illegitimate product of back-room deals and military pressure on legislators.
The protest group includes supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted in a 2006 military coup following accusations of corruption and abuse of power.
Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn sought to play down the disagreements, saying both sides were working to persuade their supporters to back the compromise plan.
"It doesn't mean we go back to square one. It means we see an intense negotiation within groups — the Reds, the Democrats," he said, referring to the ruling Democrat Party.
As attention focused on the standoff between the government and the Reds, the pro-establishment group known as the Yellow Shirts rejected any compromise and reiterated their demand for a crackdown to restore law and order.
"By negotiating and reconciling with them, the government is giving in to the terrorist movement whose goal is to establish a new Thai state," the royalist group, formally known as the People's Alliance for Democracy, said in a statement.
The Yellow Shirts established a precedent for using disruptive protests for political ends when they took over the prime minister's office and then Bangkok's airports in 2008 to help force a change in government.
Crowds at the protesters' encampment have been dissipating in recent days, army spokesman Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd said, putting their number at 10,000 on Wednesday, well off their high of tens of thousands.
Associated Press writers Jocelyn Gecker, Ravi Nessman, Thanyarat Doksone and Denis D. Gray contributed to this report.