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Hardline red shirt protesters still seek 'knockout punch' against Thai PM

While red shirt leaders in Bangkok have agreed to a road map to reconciliation with the Thai premier, red shirt protesters from northeast Thailand, a hotbed of antigovernment demonstrations, show no signs of backing down.

Antigovernment red shirt protesters read morning newspapers inside their barricaded encampment in Bangkok's financial district Friday. A peace plan put forward by Thailand's prime minister to end weeks of deadly protests was in limbo on Friday as the government and protesters squabbled over details, including a proposed early election in November.

Caren Firouz/Reuters

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Every night, to cheers from the crowd, antigovernment protesters in this northeastern city board chartered buses bound for Bangkok. At police checkpoints, they stash their trademark red shirts and play dumb. For many it’s their second or third time to join the nonstop rallies that have roiled the Thai capital for nearly two months but may soon be over.

Red-shirt leaders said Friday that they had accepted Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s reconciliation road map which includes elections in November. They fell short of agreeing to end their marathon protest, though one leader said earlier that they would leave Monday, according to Thai media reports.

But in Thailand’s hardscrabble northeast, there is little sign of surrender. A convoy of hundreds of pickup trucks was due to leave here Friday, part of a fresh influx from the rural heartland, even as leaders in Bangkok appear to be plotting their exit. The mobilization may reflect divisions in the leadership over how far to push for further concessions.

Ittichai Sriwongchai, a red-shirt organizer and local politician, says a decision was taken Wednesday to ratchet up the pressure.

"We need a knockout punch [to Abhisit]," he says. "We’ve had an upper cut, a hook. But people are saying, 'Why don't you go for a knockout?' "


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