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Written by: Staff
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BANGKOK, Mar 25: Protesters began gathering in Bangkok today for a rally against Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra that organisers said would be a last push to oust him before a snap election.

The rally, due to start at 0700 GMT, is being billed as a ''united call'' on revered 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.

Organisers said they hoped at least one million people would gather, kicking off three days of protests culminating in a march to police headquarters on Monday to demand criminal charges be brought against Thaksin.

The campaigners 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 neutral.

''Please, as many as possible come to join force to ask His Majesty to give us an impartial government,'' campaign leader Sondhi Limthongkul told a crowd which has camped outside Thaksin's headquarters for two weeks.

Toay, many of the people who joined them wore the royal colour of yellow as police searched for weapons, a reflection of constant fears of violence since the six-month campaign against Thaksin intensified in January.

The campaign leaders promised there would be no trouble, but 5,000 police were due to be on the streets with more on standby.

However, polls suggest waning interest in Bangkok, where the anti-Thaksin campaign has been centred.

''Our intelligence suggested third parties would make trouble and bring violence to the March 25 rally,'' national police chief Kowit Watana told reporters this week. NO TROUBLE YET Police have said similar things before previous rallies -- the biggest of which drew 130,000 people -- but so far there has been no trouble in a country with a long and relatively recent history of military coups.

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 suggested his patience might run short if the campaign continued after the election, which he has turned into an effective referendum by saying he will step down if his party does not get half the vote.

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

Still, the biggest opposition party, the Democrats, joined the call for royal intervention on Friday.

''Today, even though Thais are divided by different opinions, it is undeniable that we all respect the same uniting figure in His Majesty the King,'' Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva told a Bangkok rally.

''To start finding solutions for the country, I would like to propose to Mr. Thaksin as fellow Thais that he and his cabinet seek royal approval for a new prime minister and a new cabinet.'' The palace has let it be known the king is following events closely but it has shown no signs he is willing to act against Thaksin, the focus of metropolitan middle class anger since his family's tax-free $1.9 billion sale of its telecoms empire.

The January sale of Shin Corp, which Thaksin founded, to a Singapore state investment firm fuelled the campaign against him, but the latest poll showed Bangkok people were getting fed up with it.

REUTERS

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