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Thai PM kicks off campaign, urges opposition to run

Written by: Staff

BANGKOK, March 2: Cheered by supporters shouting ''Thaksin fight on!'', Thailand's prime minister tosay kicked off his re-election campaign while his party negotiated furiously to end an opposition boycott of the April 2 poll.

''Don't underestimate the people. Let them decide,'' Thaksin Shinawatra said at a Bangkok rally on the first day of registration for party candidates for the snap election.

While supporters cheered Thaksin, his ruling Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party was seeking a compromise with three opposition parties which say the poll would legitimise a corrupt government and have vowed to boycott it.

Prommin Lertsuridej, Thaksin's chief of staff, offered to delay the poll or extend the registration period beyond the March 8 deadline to give the opposition more time to prepare.

''There are people trying to bring the opposition back to the negotiations. We are ready to relax the electoral rules,'' he told Reuters.

But the main opposition Democrat Party said the time for compromise had passed after Thaksin rejected an opposition demand for constitutional reforms after the election.

''Our stance remains the same,'' Democrat spokesman Ong-Ard Klampaiboon said. ''We won't run. We won't tear up our pact.'' However, one of the boycotting parties, Chart Thai, was forced to deny rumours it planned to end its protest.

''It is 100 per cent impossible,'' Chart Thai deputy leader Somsak Prisananantakul told a Bangkok television station.

Thaksin won a second consecutive landslide election 12 months ago and had seemed invincible until outrage exploded in Bangkok after his relatives' tax-free sale of Shin Corp, the conglomerate he founded, to a Singapore state firm.

''BRINK OF VIOLENCE'' Leaders of a campaign to oust Thaksin, a telecoms billionaire and self-styled ''CEO premier'', for alleged abuse of power and corruption say he must resign by Sunday or face marches through the streets of Bangkok, raising fears of violence.

In a front-page editorial, the Nation newspaper which, like most of the Bangkok press, has been highly critical of Thaksin, said the country was ''on the brink of violent confrontation''.

''It's over, Mr. Prime Minister,'' said the newspaper. It was ''bottom-line time'', it said.

''A good CEO wouldn't dwell on which side he is on, but only how to save the company.'' Thaksin has refused to quit and vowed to speak his mind at a rally in Bangkok tomorrow at the same site where tens of thousands of anti-government protesters are expected on Sunday.

At today's rally, Thaksin said the Thai people should be allowed to decide his fate at the ballot box.

''Aung San Suu Kyi has been struggling to have elections in Myanmar, but some political leaders in Thailand, where we are open to everything, say they don't want elections,'' Thaksin said in a reference to the democracy icon in military-ruled Myanmar.

''I think they should go and ask Aung San Suu Kyi,'' Thaksin said as supporters pushed forward to give him red roses, shouting ''Thaksin, Fight On, Fight On''.


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