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Protesters make new demands

Protesters and the Thai government stepped back from the brink of all-out armed conflict yesterday as both sides offered hints of compromise a day after deadly grenade attacks hit Bangkok's business district.

The red-shirted supporters of ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra said they would end a three-week occupation of Bangkok's shopping district if the government dissolved parliament and called elections in 30 days. They had previously demanded this happen immediately.

It is unclear whether the military-backed government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva would agree to that timetable, though analysts said he was running out of options. "The government might have to agree to a three-month timeframe, but this doesn't mean this will ease the tensions," said Pitch Pongsawat, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University. "There doesn't seem to be any real control about what's been happening on the streets."

The risk of violence remains high. Thousands of armed troops keep watch over the red shirts at a city intersection. Royalist pro-government protesters often gather outside their barricade, prompting clashes in which both sides hurl bottles and insults.

The protesters have also called for the Prime Minister to begin an independent probe into a clash that killed 25 people and wounded more than 800 in a failed attempt to disperse the protesters on 10 April.

The revised demands came shortly after army chief Anupong Paochinda said there would be no crackdown on the protesters because it would do more harm than good.