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Thai PM foes march in central Bangkok

Thousands of anti-government protesters marched to Bangkok’s shopping district on Sunday in a second day of demonstrations aimed at ousting Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
/ Source: Reuters

Thousands of anti-government protesters marched to Bangkok’s busy shopping district on Sunday in a second day of demonstrations aimed at ousting Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Waving placards and shouting “Thaksin get out,” people marched to the glitzy Siam Paragon Mall, snarling traffic on one of the city’s busiest streets, on the second day of a three-day “final push” against the Thai leader.

The march followed a rally on Saturday where 50,000 people, far fewer than the one million organizers had hoped, called on King Bhumibol Adulyadej to replace Thaksin, accused of corruption and abuse of power, before an April 2 election he called three years early in hopes of ending the crisis.

“Please come to join us to oust Thaksin and to ask for His Majesty to give us a government,” media firebrand and friend-turned-foe Sondhi Limthongkul told the marchers.

Some 300 police kept watch as 10,000 protesters left the National Stadium early on Sunday with thousands more expected to join the march as it moved down Sukhumvit Road.

The lower numbers at Saturday night’s rally compared to previous one attended by 100,000, appeared to back up a poll this week showing that people in Bangkok, the center of the anti-Thaksin campaign, were getting fed up after weeks of protests.

The palace has let it be known that the king is following events closely but it has shown no sign he is willing to act against Thaksin, the focus of anger since his family’s tax-free $1.9 billion sale of its telecoms empire in January.

Thaksin, the only elected prime minister in Thai history to complete a full term, told Reuters on Friday he did not think the king -- who has intervened publicly twice in his 60-year reign, both times against military rulers -- would act.

Call for reform
The campaigners, a coalition of civic groups, unions and academics called the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), want the king to appoint a neutral government to carry out political reforms.

The three main opposition parties are boycotting the election, saying they cannot be fair because Thaksin has taken over institutions meant to be independent.

But the palace appears reluctant to intervene with an election due in a week’s time.

Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda was shown on national television casting his ballot at an advance poll on Saturday where he urged people to vote.

“It may be hard for the People’s Alliance for Democracy to accept, but Prem was sending a message: the time is not right for a royally appointed prime minister, unless something really, really bad happens,” the fiercely anti-Thaksin Nation newspaper said in an editorial.

Thaksin has turned the election, in which voters can cast an abstention, into an effective referendum saying he would quit if his Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party got less than 50 percent of the vote.

The protests have been peaceful so far despite police fears of violence in a country with a history of military coups and bloody street demonstrations.

Violence could bring a state of emergency which would put troops on the streets, but the military has said it sees no reason for one and Thaksin told Reuters he did not want to have to impose it.

However, Thaksin, who was due to campaign in Bangkok later on Sunday, has suggested his patience might run short if the demonstrations against him continued after the election.