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Thai political camps in talks to end stalemate

Soldiers guarded the Army Club in Bangkok, where top political rivals held negotiations.

NARONG SANGNAK/epa

Soldiers guarded the Army Club in Bangkok, where top political rivals held negotiations.

BANGKOK — A day after imposing martial law, the Thai military on Wednesday put leaders of the country’s polarized political camps in the same room in an effort to end six months of political deadlock.

The military summoned the meeting participants in a television announcement. It was first time that all sides of the political conflict had attended talks together. The army invited the country’s caretaker government, the two main political parties, and protest leaders from both pro- and anti-government movements.

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The meeting, which lasted 2½ hours, was “positive,” said a military spokesman, Colonel Weerachon Sukhonthapatipak.

“Of course, the very first day we were not able to come up with a solution,” he said. A second meeting was planned for Thursday afternoon.

In a possible sign of hesitation by the elected government, Thailand’s caretaker prime minister, Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, declined to attend the meeting and sent Cabinet ministers in his place.

But Suthep Thaugsuban, the leader of the movement that has blocked elections and tried to overthrow the government, consented, an apparent shift for the movement, which is backed by the Bangkok establishment. Until Wednesday, Suthep had repeatedly refused negotiations with the government.

One key person was not at the table: Thaksin Shinawatra, the founder of the governing party and the target of the antigovernment movement’s ire. Thaksin, a former prime minister, was deposed by the military in a 2006 coup and lives overseas. His movement has won every election since 2001 but has antagonized the traditional elites in Bangkok.

The military imposed martial law Tuesday using an obscure, century-old law that is so archaic it allows the army to inspect telegraph messages and requisition “beasts of burden.”

The military has acted quickly in stamping out what it considers partisan media, banning at least 14 television channels and 3,000 radio stations. The army also issued an order banning the media from interviewing anyone “not currently holding an official position.”

Criticism also came from within state agencies. Supinya Klangnarong, a member of the National Broadcast & Telecommunication Commission, predicted that the army’s attempts to censor debate would fail.

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