Thai anti-govt protest leader calls for live TV talks with Yingluck

BANGKOK - The caretaker PM responded to yesterday's challenge with a condition - she would meet with Suthep if he ended anti-government protests and allowed the uncompleted national election to go ahead.

"If Khun Yingluck really wants to find a solution through talks, I ask her to make an appointment for a one-on-one meeting with me in an open setting," Suthep told reporters. "The talks should be broadcast live on TV so that the people know what is going on."

Suthep, secretary general of the People's Democratic Reform Committee, said the talks should be for the good of the country and not for personal benefit.

He said he would not take part in them if former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra benefited.

The veteran politician had earlier said he would only talk to Thaksin, Yingluck's elder brother, whom he accused of being behind rampant corruption and abuse of power.

Suthep leads a protest movement that aims to bring down the so-called Thaksin regime.

Yingluck said she was in favour of negotiations if they were constitutional.

She asked Suthep whether he was ready to end the protest to pave the way for the election.

"Something important that everyone wants is an end to the protests and the election to go ahead," she said from Chiang Mai.

"If not, we can't tell the world community how we will maintain democracy.

"This is the main point we have to stick to. I agree in principle to peaceful negotiation."

PDRC spokesman Akanat Promphan said the prime minister should not have placed a condition on the talks going ahead if she was sincere. "It seems she does not want the talks to happen," he said.

The ruling Pheu Thai Party accused Suthep of having ulterior motives for demanding one-on-one talks broadcast live.

"In principle, such talks must be held in secret," Pheu Thai spokesman Prompong Nopparit said.

"Suthep's offer looks as though he wants to have a political debate broadcast live on TV. This would create more problems than lead to a solution."

International organisations yesterday voiced support for talks between both sides.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon again offered to help find a solution to the political crisis. He "expresses his readiness to assist Thailand and the Thai people in any way possible", his spokesman said.

Ban's statement came shortly after caretaker Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said he would seek the UN secretary-general's assistance. Surapong said he had spoken with Ban to discuss ways out of the political crisis.

Ban has offered his assistance to Thailand on several occasions - including during separate talks with Yingluck and former opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva - to end the worsening political violence, which has claimed at least 22 lives including four children.

His spokesman quoted Ban as urging the warring parties to engage in dialogue as soon as possible in a meaningful and inclusive way while advancing genuine reform.

Meanwhile, the European Union joined other international bodies in expressing deep concern over the situation in Thailand, saying the death of young children was particularly disturbing.

Catherine Ashton, the EU's high representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, expressed her deepest sympathy to the families of the victims.

She called on all stakeholders involved in the conflict to act with the utmost restraint to prevent any further violence.

"She reiterates her urgent call for a dialogue leading to a lasting political solution based on democratic principles," Ashton's spokesman said.