'No clear conclusion' in talks aimed at ending Thailand's political crisis


An anti-government protester stands outside her tent as a Thai soldier checks the area in Bangkok on May 21, 2014.



Thailand's rival political factions would not agree on Wednesday to stop their protests at crisis talks aimed at ending confrontation a day after the army declared martial law, a pro-government activist said.

Although the military denied Tuesday's surprise intervention amounted to a coup, army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha appeared to be setting the agenda by forcing groups and organizations with a central role in the crisis to talk.

Issues raised during the meeting included how to reform the political system — a demand made by anti-government protesters — and ending the demonstrations that have sparked violence, disrupted business and scared off tourists.

"When asked whether each group can stop protesting, there was no commitment from either side," Thida Thawornseth, a leader of the pro-government "red shirt" political group, told Reuters. "There was no clear conclusion."

Puchong Nutrawong, secretary-general of the Election Commission, who was also at the talks, said all sides would meet again on Thursday.

"The army chief asked us to go back home and think about the things we discussed in order to find a solution for the country," Puchong told Reuters.

Thailand has been riven by rivalry between populist former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the royalist establishment for nearly 10 years.

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Thaksin, a former telecommunications billionaire who won the loyalty of the rural and urban poor, has lived in self-exile since 2008 but still exerts a huge influence, most recently through a government run by his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra.

Yingluck was forced to step down as premier by a court two weeks ago, but her caretaker government remains in power, despite the declaration of martial law and six months of sometimes violent protests aimed at ousting it.

The turmoil has driven the country to the brink of recession and even raised fears of civil war.

'Homework handed out'

The anti-government protesters are opposed to an election, which Thaksin's loyalist would be likely to win. They want a "neutral" prime minister installed to oversee electoral reforms aimed at ending Thaksin's influence.

The government, on the other hand, sees a general election as the best way forward and has proposed a new vote on August 3. The anti-government protesters disrupted an election in February that was later annulled, and they have vowed to do so again.

Whether all sides could accept an interim prime minister and what reforms could be implemented were also raised at the talks, Thida said.

An army spokesman said all sides would go away to think.

"There was no conclusion. It is as though homework was handed out for each side to work on," deputy army spokesman Winthai Suvaree told reporters.