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May 30, 2017

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Thai parliament ducks call to pick unelected PM

BANGKOK--Thai opposition protesters suffered a setback Friday in their long-running battle to topple the government as the upper house of parliament shunned their call to pick an unelected premier.

The dismissal of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra last week in a controversial court ruling has sent tensions soaring in the kingdom, which has endured years of political turmoil.

Her "Red Shirt" supporters have warned of the threat of civil war if power is handed to an unelected leader, as demanded by the opposition.

Anti-government protesters had urged the upper house of parliament, the Senate, to invoke a vaguely worded clause in the constitution to remove the government and appoint a new premier.

Critics say such a move has no legal basis.

After several days of talks among some, mostly unelected members of the upper house, acting Senate speaker Surachai Liangboonlertchai on Friday unveiled his hotly anticipated "roadmap" out of the crisis.

But it stopped short of proposing an unelected interim premier, and instead made a general call for all parties to come together to help solve the crisis.

Surachai did, however, hint that the Senate might intervene in the future, saying that if necessary it would hold a special meeting "in order to have a prime minister under the constitution" and in line with democratic and international standards.

A frustrated protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban called for leaders of the anti-government movement to gather on Saturday to discuss their next move, saying the Senate "has no guts."

The protesters refuse to back new elections without vaguely defined reforms first to tackle alleged corruption and curb the long-standing political dominance of Yingluck's billionaire family.

The demonstrators appear to be running out of options after six months of civil disobedience that has failed to unseat the government.

The Red Shirts welcomed the acting Senate speaker's remarks as a sign that the anti-government push is failing.

"The Senate does not hold any hope for Suthep anymore," one of their leaders, Nattawut Saikuar, told Red Shirts who have been massed on the outskirts of Bangkok since last weekend.

He said that the opposition's only hope now for toppling the government was to provoke a coup.

A grenade and gun attack on anti-government protesters in Bangkok on Thursday that left three people dead has added to fears that the unrest could spiral, with the coup-prone military warning that it might have to intervene to quell the violence.

The deaths took the toll from six months of unrest to 28, with hundreds of others wounded in attacks mostly targeting opposition protesters.

The Election Commission said Thursday that a vote scheduled for July 20 was "no longer possible" as polls could not be held without the support of the protesters.

An election held in February was annulled after demonstrators blocked voting.

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