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Thai premier to offer political solution to crisis

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[May 03, 2010]  BANGKOK (AP) -- Thailand's prime minister said Monday he has formulated a roadmap to solve the country's political crisis, while his deputy said the solution will "probably" call for dissolving Parliament if there is no longer a risk of violence.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, speaking at a special Senate session on the political crisis, did not say when the plan would be made public. Abhisit has been under intense pressure to end the stalemate with the anti-government protesters, who have showed no sign of wearing down after an eight-week siege that has paralyzed parts of the capital.

His comments come just a day after he warned that security forces were preparing to clear out the so-called Red Shirt protesters -- an action that would risk more bloodshed. Police with riot gear and armed soldiers remained deployed near the protest site Monday, but there was no immediate sign of increased security or preparations for action.

The protesters have barricaded roads and closed down Bangkok's ritziest shopping district in a campaign to force the government to disband Parliament and call elections. At least 27 people have been killed and nearly 1,000 wounded in ensuing violence between protesters and security forces.

"I will present political solutions -- we can call it a roadmap," Abhisit told the Senate, saying he was working to incorporate ideas from all sectors of society. "To have a political solution, we must listen to opinions of all parties, not just one group."

Until now, Abhisit has offered to call elections by the end of this year but has rejected the protesters' demands for even quicker elections and publicly suspended talks with their leaders.

The protesters, mostly from the rural and urban poor, view the government as an illegitimate puppet of Bangkok's elite and the military that came to power through a parliamentary vote rather than a general election. Many are supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup and is now encouraging the protesters from abroad.

Red Shirt leaders, who have vowed to remain camped in Bangkok streets until their demands are met, said Monday a successful solution to the crisis hinged on several factors.

"The word 'roadmap' could mean anything," said Weng Tojirakarn, one of the protest leaders. "Does it mean a constitutional amendment or just solutions to economic problems and political stalemate? The government has to (address) all of this when it launches a roadmap."

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said the government's plan could offer a political compromise but only if authorities feel there is no more risk of violence.

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"The principle is that if the country is quiet, people stop taking sides and are ready to abide by the rules like in other democratic countries, the prime minister will probably decide to dissolve the Parliament," Suthep told reporters at Parliament.

On Sunday, Abhisit said the government was preparing to clear the activists barricaded in the commercial zone -- but also gave no timeframe.

"We are sending a clear signal that we have given people enough time to leave (the occupied zone). We are now in the process of sealing off and cutting off support before we actually move in," Abhisit said in an interview with foreign journalists.

Speaking at a closely guarded military camp on the city's outskirts, Abhisit said the demonstrators, who include a large number of women and children, would be given prior warning.

"I can say that we continue to exercise restraint and patience and the first, best solution is one that does not involve violence," he said.

Monday's parliamentary session was full of criticism for both the government -- for allowing the crisis to drag on this far -- and the hostile tactics of the Red Shirts. Several senators called for a political solution, agreeing that enough blood has been spilled, and urged both sides to meet in the middle.

"The government should not rule out parliamentary dissolution and the Red Shirts should be open to negotiations," said Sen. Sitthana Yingthaweelapa.

[Associated Press; By JOCELYN GECKER]

Associated Press writer Denis D. Gray contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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