Thailand's military refuses to intervene

Thailand's military refuses to intervene
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban (second from right) with his staff prior to meeting top military officers in Bangkok on Saturday. Thailand's supreme commander said the military's duty is to protect the lives and assets of the Thai people.

Thailand's supreme commander has dismissed an opposition rally leader's call to intervene in support of efforts by protesters to oust the government and replace it with an unelected "people's council".

Responding to calls by protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban to "stand by the people", General Thanasak Patimaprakorn on Saturday expressed concern over the security situation and urged warring politicians to find a swift solution to the country's deep political crisis.

The "best way to solve the problem is through negotiation", he said at an open, televised forum that he himself hosted. "We live under rules and reason."

The general said the military's duty was to protect the lives and assets of the Thai people, not to crack down on riots.

He added: "To have peace and prosperity, we must solve these problems properly, sustainably, and not let the same old cycle return."

But there is little sign of a solution emerging, and the mid-term election scheduled for Feb 2 is looming as a sticking point.

The military has launched 18 attempted and successful coups since Thailand became a democracy under a constitutional monarchy in 1932. But while it holds powerful cards, it is reluctant to use them.

The last coup in 2006 ousted Premier Yingluck Shinawatra's brother Thaksin Shinawatra. Anti-government protesters see the billionaire running a proxy government and seducing his vote bank with money and expensive populist policies. They also see his popularity as a threat to the monarchy itself. But the coup solidified Thaksin's "red shirt" support base further.

Suthep Thaugsuban, the leader of the self-styled People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), in a meeting with the military's top brass - who took great care not to appear to be taking sides - stuck to his guns, rejecting the election.

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