New Thai PM open to talks with protesters

New Thai PM open to talks with protesters

BANGKOK - Thailand's new prime minister on Monday offered talks with protesters trying to topple the government, as his political rivals pushed for the appointment of an unelected leader to take power.

"We are open for dialogue," said Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, who took the helm last week after a controversial court ruling removed Yingluck Shinawatra and nine of her ministers from office.

"Let's talk. But let's talk realistically," he told foreign reporters, playing down fears that the country is teetering on the brink.

"I don't think there will be a civil war. It has been six months and we manage to run the country quite well," Niwattumrong said.

Opposition demonstrators are threatening to step up their six-month campaign to overthrow the government.

But the government's supporters, known as the "Red Shirts', say they will not tolerate any move to hand power to an unelected regime, warning it could lead to civil war.

The opposition protesters want the Senate (upper house of parliament) - almost half of whose members are unelected - to remove the weakened cabinet, but it is unclear whether such a move is possible under the constitution.

The country has not had a functioning lower house since Yingluck dissolved parliament in December for elections that were later voided because of disruption by protesters.

Some members of the Senate held a meeting on Monday to seek a solution to the crisis.

Paiboon Nittitawan, an appointed senator and prominent government critic, urged the upper house to choose a new prime minister "immediately, for the sake of security and the economy".

"We cannot allow the crisis to drag on," he said.

Senate speaker-elect Surachai Liangboonlertchai told reporters before the talks that he would draft a "roadmap" out of the crisis as soon as possible but did not reveal his plan.

Fewer than 90 senators, out of a total of 150, attended the meeting amid questions about whether the upper house is entitled to hold a debate on the crisis in the present circumstances.

Thailand has been shaken by periodic bouts of political protests and street violence since Yingluck's elder brother Thaksin Shinawatra was deposed as premier by royalist generals in 2006.

The kingdom is bitterly divided between foes and supporters of the billionaire tycoon turned populist politician, who lives in Dubai to avoid jail for a corruption conviction.

At least 25 people have been killed in recent months in political violence often targeting opposition protesters.

Niwattumrong said he would hold talks with poll officials on Wednesday about a new general election scheduled for July 20, rejecting the opposition's demand to delay the vote until reforms have been introduced to tackle corruption.

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