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Thai leader warns of post-election "nightmare"

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UDON THANI, Thailand, Mar 24: Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said today (Mar 24, 2006) Thailand faced a ''nightmare'' if campaigners trying to oust him with mass street protests refused to respect the outcome of an April 2 snap election.

''They will have to respect the people's decision,'' he said of the People's Alliance for Democracy, an ad hoc coalition of protesters bent on removing the billionaire telecoms tycoon from office.

''If they don't respect the people's decision, I think it is going to be a nightmare for the country and for the democratic system,'' Thaksin told Reuters on a campaign stop in the northeast town of Udon Thani.

He also said his first post-election priority would be to restore investor confidence shaken by the protracted political crisis.

''During the past two or three months, I think the trust and confidence has been eroded. We have to bring it back,'' he said.

The stock market and baht have both wobbled at various points in the six-month saga, which intensified in January when Thaksin's family sold its 1.9 billion dollar chunk of the telecoms empire he founded tax-free to a Singapore state investment firm.

Thaksin, accused by his opponents of corruption and abuse of power, called next month's election three years early. Major opposition parties are boycotting the vote.

Attempts at mediation have failed, but with daily protests snarling up Bangkok's clogged roads, as well as hundreds of protesters camped permanently outside his Government House offices, Thaksin hinted he was running out of patience.

''I don't think I will let things prolong,'' he said when asked what he would do if, as widely anticipated, the protests continued after the election.

''When we return the power to the people and the people of Thailand decide, we have to respect the power of the people. We should not respect a small group to decide on behalf of the whole nation.'' Protest organisers, who have managed to amass one crowd which peaked at 130,000 people, according to police, are planning another huge rally on Saturday in the heart of the capital to push for revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej to step in.

Thaksin said he did not see a situation in which the 78-year-old monarch would act. The king has intervened publicly twice in political disputes before -- but only against military rulers and to stop bloodshed on the streets of Bangkok.

''They have the right to do so, but it is not applicable. I think those who are democracy advocaters do not like to see it,'' Thaksin said in an interview in which he appeared relaxed and upbeat.

''I don't think it will happen,'' he said.

REUTERS

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