Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Thai Election Plan Scrapped as Tensions Rise

The Thai government on Wednesday cancelled plans for a November election and scrapped talks with protesters occupying Bangkok's commercial district for nearly six weeks, but softened its line on an earlier crackdown threat.

Hours after announcing they would shut off power and cut water supplies from midnight to thousands of anti-government protesters, authorities postponed the plan, saying it would hurt residents in the ritzy district more than the demonstrators.

But the government said it would take other measures to seal off the central Bangkok area packed with hotels, embassies, businesses, high-end apartments and two public hospitals.

"Tonight, we will start preventing taxis and cars delivering protesters into the area and tomorrow, we will divert some public transportation into the area as well," army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd told reporters. "Details are still being worked out."

The threats follow the unravelling of a peace plan proposed last week by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to end a political crisis that has killed 29 people, paralysed parts of Bangkok and slowed growth in Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy.

Leaders of the mostly rural and urban poor protesters remained defiant, refusing to leave their 3 sq km (1.2 sq mile) encampment and challenging the government from behind medieval-like walls built of tyres and sharpened bamboo staves.

"We will die here if we must. Your threat will not work," Nattawut Saikua, a protest leader, told cheering supporters after the government said it may use force to disperse them if other measures failed.

The decision to postpone cutting off water and power followed outcry by residents, thousands of whom were urged by their landlords to leave and find temporary accommodation.

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