Thai protesters pull out of talks with government

BANGKOK (AP) — Hopes for a swift, peaceful resolution to Thailand's political crisis were dashed Saturday when the prime minister rejected a compromise proposal for dissolving parliament and protesters hit back by withdrawing from negotiations.

The breakdown of talks heightened fears of a new confrontation between security forces and the red shirted protesters who have virtually shut down central Bangkok.

The protesters, who claim the government took power illegitimately, had previously demanded Parliament be dissolved immediately, while the government said it would disband parliament in six months.

The Red Shirts softened their stance Friday, offering the government 30 days to disband the legislature in a move they said was aimed at preventing further bloodshed in a standoff that has resulted in 26 deaths and wounded nearly 1,000 others.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva rejected that proposal on Saturday.

"If you're going to hand us an ultimatum — 30 days or nothing — this is not negotiating," he told reporters, adding that he feared the opposition demands would only grow if the government capitulated.

"The thing is that 'dissolving parliament' might not be the last words we hear, it might not be the last thing they demand," he said.

Nattawut Saikua, a top Red Shirt leader, said that with their compromise rebuffed, there was no point in holding furthers. Red Shirt leaders said they had held unofficial negotiations with the government on Wednesday and Friday.

"These negotiations will stop. We will not talk anymore," he said.

Red Shirt leaders said previously that the government had expressed a willingness to compromise. They said that if no compromise was reached they would continue their demonstrations in the Bangkok commercial district that they have transformed into a protest camp with barricades of tires and bamboo stakes, paralyzing business and daily life in the city.

Many in the capital have grown weary of the confrontation and the disruptions, and thousands of residents gathered at a park Saturday to demand the protests end. "Please stop the mob — I want a normal life," read one sign.

The Red Shirts consist mainly of rural supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and pro-democracy activists who opposed the military coup that ousted him in 2006. They believe Abhisit's government is illegitimate because it came to power under military pressure through a parliamentary vote after disputed court rulings ousted two elected pro-Thaksin governments.

The conflict has been characterized by some as class warfare, pitting the country's vast rural poor against an elite that has traditionally held power.

Since the beginning of the crisis, Abhisit's government has threatened to curtail the protests but has failed to follow through. Military units from the 200,000-strong army have been routed in several confrontations with the crudely armed demonstrators. The police have often melted when faced with determined protesters.