Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva held direct talks Sunday with anti-government protest leaders who have been demanding he step down and call new elections.
The meeting was held at an education institute in Bangkok and broadcast live on national television. Abhisit agreed to the talks if protesters moved away from the heavily guarded military base on the outskirts of the capital that he's been using as his government headquarters.
The protesters issued an ultimatum earlier Sunday, threatening to scale the walls of the base unless Abhisit agreed to meet them face-to-face.
The meeting followed two weeks of demonstrations in Bangkok. The latest, on Saturday, drew an estimated 80,000 supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
During the talks, the two sides sat across a conference table from each other and shook hands. They then reiterated their sharply different stances.
"Our request is simple and direct: Dissolve Parliament for the people to decide again," said Veera Muksikapong, a protest leader. He was joined by two other protest leaders, all dressed in their signature red shirts.
Crisis spinning toward violence
A tense-looking Abhisit — accompanied by two advisers wearing blue shirts — reiterated his position that dissolving Parliament immediately would not solve Thailand's deep political crisis.
"I have to make a decision based on a consensus from the entire country, including the Red Shirts," Abhisit said. "We have to think: Will dissolution really solve the problem?"
Abhisit has repeatedly rejected the protesters' demands that he dissolve Parliament and call new elections.
The protests have escalated toward violence. Early Sunday, four soldiers were wounded when two grenades were fired into the army barracks that is serving as Abhisit's base, Thai media reported.
More than a dozen explosions have hit government targets since the protests began, including attacks on two television stations and the customs department on Saturday that wounded at least eight, the Thai News Agency reported.
The so-called Red Shirts, led by the United Democratic Front against Dictatorship, have been protesting against political developments since 2006, when Thaksin was ousted by the military in a bloodless coup for alleged corruption and abuse of power.