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March 28, 2009

Thaksin adds to calls for govt resignation
Deposed Premier Thaksin Shinawatra demanded Friday that Thailand's government resign, echoing the calls of his supporters who have surrounded the prime minister's office compound for two days, reported the Associated Press.

Thaksin spoke via video link from self-imposed exile, his image broadcast on a giant screen outside Government House, which he occupied for six years until he was ousted in a 2006 coup.

An estimated 30,000 ringed the compound Thursday evening, but police said their numbers had dwindled to just several thousand on Friday.

The demonstrators say Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's government came to power through illegal means and should step down so new elections can be held. Abhisit has rejected their calls.

"Let's start again. Dissolve the Parliament and call fresh elections," Thaksin said to raucous cheers from the crowd. "This way the country can move past the crisis."

"We want to see true democracy in Thailand. We want to see justice," said Thaksin, who fled into exile last year and has been convicted in absentia of violating a conflict of interest law. Accused of corruption and abuse of power, Thaksin remains popular among the rural majority that benefited from his populist policies.

Thaksin regularly speaks to supporters via video link from overseas, surfacing in numerous countries around Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and now Africa.

This week's protests are the latest episode in Thailand's long-running political turmoil, which last year saw months of demonstrations by Thaksin's political opponents, who besieged the Government House and occupied Bangkok's two main airports, damaging Thailand's vital tourism industry.

The "red-shirts," as the pro-Thaksin supporters are commonly known because of their favored color, have resorted to the same people-power methods as their rivals in their own bid to topple the government, but their demonstrations have been generally peaceful, and, aside from Thursday's gathering, have failed to muster large crowds.

They said they would remain at Government House through the weekend but would not break into the compound as their rivals did.

"We will protest until the illegitimate government is gone. We have to stop them from causing more damage to Thai democracy," said a protest leader, Nattawut Sai-kua. "We will stay for as long as we need to get the job done."

Abhisit avoided his office Friday but said he planned to return Monday and rejected talk that his government will set up a temporary headquarters as the previous administration did last year to avoid protesters.

"Whether to resign or not resign is a political matter within the system," Abhisit told reporters Friday at his Democrat Party's headquarters. "Right now, the situation remains normal. ... We are still operating normally."

Friday's protest mixed fiery speeches with a carnival-like atmosphere. The demonstrators sang and danced on the streets during breaks from political speeches. Free food and beverages were provided.

Protesters parked trucks at intersections and blocked roads with cargo containers in an attempt to keep government workers out of the compound.

Abhisit was voted in by Parliament in December after a court dissolved the party leading the previous government, which was packed with Thaksin's allies.

Protesters say the court decisions were political and biased against the deposed leader's allies.

The revival of political protests comes as the country grapples with its worst economic downturn since the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Thailand's economy, the second largest in Southeast Asia, is expected to contract 2.5 percent this year, as global demand for its crucial export sector dries up.


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