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Thaksin foes threaten street marches in Bangkok

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Bagkok, Feb 28: Leaders of a campaign to oust Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra demanded he resign by Sunday or their followers will start marching on Bangkok streets, a move that could spark violence.

The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), a coalition of extra-parliamentary groups trying to oust Thaksin for alleged abuse of power and corruption, said he would face the 'people's power' if he ignored the ultimatum.

"March 5 will be the day of reckoning", Sondhi Limthongkul, a media tycoon who began the campaign to oust his former business ally in September, told protesters in the early hours of today (Feb 28, 2006).

"We will march peacefully until the morning of the 6th to show our pure intention to request Thaksin to resign", Sondhi told the crowd after a two-block march from the rally site in front of the glittering Grand Palace.

The proclamation came just hours after the three opposition parties declared a boycott of the snap April 2 election Thaksin called to settle the growing crisis. They accused him of taking over political institutions, making a fair poll impossible.

The boycott unsettled financial markets, which had shown signs of recovery yesterday with investors hoping the election would provide a way out of the crisis.

At 1003 hrs IST, the main Thai stock index, which rose 1.5 percent yesterday, was down 0.89 per cent. Economists say the campaign to oust Thaksin could scare foreign investors away from planned huge infrastructure projects and cut economic growth.

Moral Outrage

Yesterday night's rally, which began on Sunday with the biggest anti-government crowd in 14 years that peaked at 50,000, drew half that number.

But monks and nuns of the 'Dharma Army' are occupying the rally ground at Sanam Luang until Sunday's demonstration.

Their leader is Chamlong Srimuang, an ascetic 70-year-old general who led a successful but bloody 1992 ''people power'' uprising against a military-led government.

His presence has fuelled fears of violence, although there has been no sign of any so far and Chamlong says his followers will not start anything.

But mass marches through the streets of Bangkok carry the risk of violence and street violence brings the risk of a coup in a country with a long and relatively recent history of military intervention, although the army has proclaimed its neutrality.

The anti-Thaksin campaign ignited last month when the 1.9 dollars billion tax-free sale by Thaksin's relatives of their stake in the telecommunications empire he founded sparked moral outrage among Bangkok's middle-classes.

Thaksin won a second consecutive landslide election 12 months ago and had seemed invincible until the outrage exploded in Bangkok following the sale of Shin Corp to a Singapore state investment firm.

His support in the countryside, where 70 per cent of Thais live, is thought to be still solid and his Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) Party is accusing the political opposition of betraying democracy while Thaksin takes the constitutional road.

Thai Rak Thai was expected to win the election comfortably without a boycott, albeit with a smaller majority than the 377 of the 500 parliamentary seats it had a year ago.

But it appealed to the opposition today to keep working for a solution to the crisis.

"We don't want to come to a dead end and we hope that every politician agrees that they don't want to see a political dead end", Thai Rak Thai spokesman Suranand Vejjajiva told reporters.

"We now are approaching them more and the prime minister is open, so I hope the opposition will come closer to us", he said before a weekly cabinet meeting.

Reuters

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