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September 20, 2017

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Thailand army chief convenes rare meeting of political rivals

BANGKOK--Thailand's military hosted ground-breaking talks Wednesday between warring political rivals after imposing martial law to prevent the deeply divided kingdom degenerating into another "Ukraine or Egypt."

The opposing camps and other top officials met for more than two hours under heavy guard in Bangkok in what one hardline supporter of the elected government called a good atmosphere — a rare glimmer of detente in the long-running political conflict.

The crisis broadly pits a Bangkok-based royalist elite and its backers against the billionaire family of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by the military in 2006 but still enjoys strong support in northern Thailand.

There was no breakthrough at the talks chaired by army leader General Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who invoked martial law Tuesday, and another meeting was called for Thursday.

"They're all determined to find the best solution for the country," said army spokesman Werachon Sukhonthapatipak.

"Of course, the very first day we are not able to come up with the solution. But we give them some homework to go back and consult with their supporters, with their team," he told reporters.

The meeting included representatives of the government, the ruling and opposition parties and of the election commission and Senate, as well as the heads of the pro- and anti-government protest camps.

"The atmosphere at the meeting was good. At least we had a chance to talk to each other," said Thida Thavornseth, a core leader of the pro-government "Red Shirt" movement.

'Coming days crucial'

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