* Offer comes after six weeks of protests
* Gen. Anupong says crackdown would do more harm than good
* Indonesia says concerned about regional impact
* U.S. and UN urge restraint from both sides
(Recasts, adds analyst comment)
By Jason Szep
BANGKOK, April 23 Protesters and the Thai
government stepped back from the brink of all-out armed
conflict on Friday as both sides offered hints of compromise a
day after deadly grenade attacks hit Bangkok's business
The red-shirted supporters of ousted former premier Thaksin
Shinawatra said they will end a three-week occupation of
Bangkok's ritzy shopping district if the government dissolved
parliament and called elections in 30 days instead of
It's unclear whether the military-backed government of
embattled Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva would agree to that
timetable, though analysts say he's running out of options
after weeks of unrest by protesters who have gained a clear
"The government might have to agree to a three-month
timeframe, but this doesn't mean this will ease the tensions,"
said Pitch Pongsawat, political scientist at Chulalongkorn
University. "There doesn't seem to be any real control about
what's been happening on the streets."
The risk of violence remains high. Thousands of armed
troops keep watch over red shirts at a city intersection.
Royalist pro-government protesters often gather outside their
barricade, sparking clashes in which both sides hurl bottles
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For a graphic: link.reuters.com/rap67j
Among their new demands, the red shirts want Abhisit to
begin an independent probe into a clash that killed 25 people
and wounded more than 800 in a failed attempt to disperse the
protesters on April 10, and said troops must withdraw from
areas around their protest site.
"The government must stop all threats against our
movement," Weng Tojirakarn, a red shirt leader, said from a
stage at their protest site in the heart of Bangkok's
The demands came shortly after army chief Anupong Paochinda
offered an olive leaf of his own, telling commanders there
would be no crackdown on the protesters camped out in the
capital because it would do more harm than good.
'FULL SCALE WAR'
Tens of thousands of red shirts remain in a fortified
encampment at a district of high-end department stores in
central Bangkok, vowing to stay until parliament is dissolved.
Some doubt a shorter timeline for elections would end the
increasingly violent conflict on Bangkok's streets.
A powerful backlash against against the mostly rural and
working-class red shirts is growing among Bangkok's royalist
establishment who took to the streets on Friday holding
placards reading "no dissolution."
The 20,000 protesters gathered near Abhisit's office,
saying they were fed up with the disruption from the red
If Abhisit caves in, those royalists who believe the red
shirts want to topple Thailand's monarchy are likely to fight
back with a vengeance. In 2008, they blockaded Bangkok's
international airport, stranding at least 230,000 people until
a court dissolved a pro-Thaksin ruling party for electoral
Thursday's blasts also indicate a new tactic that one
analyst likened to urban terrorism. The blasts killed one
person and wounded 88, including an American, Australian and a
Japanese. The government revised down an earlier toll of three
The violence and deepening political divide has spurred
talk of civil war in Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy.
"The government is far from controlling the situation,"
Thailand's top broker Kim Eng Securities said in a client note.
"These powerful explosions right in the army-barricaded area
demonstrate they are well-prepared to wage a full-scale war."
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa offered his
Thai counterpart, Kasit Piromya, on Friday "any assistance" for
a dialogue between the conflicting parties, noting the troubles
could have a contagious impact in the region.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed to both sides
to avoid further violence, while U.S. State Department
spokesman Philip Crowley called for restraint.
IGNITING THE BARRICADE
Violence nearly flared on Friday morning when police
demanded the red shirts dismantle their fortress-like barricade
of tyres, bamboo poles and chunks of concrete near the business
district. The police pulled back after red shirts poured fuel
on the tyres and threatened to ignite the entire barricade.
Analysts say the protests are radically different from any
other period of unrest in Thailand's polarising five-year
political crisis -- and arguably in modern Thai history,
pushing the nation close to an undeclared civil war.
Diplomats and analysts say the middle ranks of the army
look dangerously split with one faction throwing its weight
behind the protesters, led by retired generals allied with
Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and later sentenced in
absentia to two years in prison for corruption.
The red shirts say British-born and Oxford-educated Abhisit
came to power illegitimately in December 2008, heading a
coalition the military cobbled together after courts dissolved
a pro-Thaksin party that led the previous government.
(Additional reporting by Martin Petty. Editing by Bill