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Thai PM offers unity govt to political foes

Written by: Staff
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BANGKOK, Mar 26 (Reuters) Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra today offered to form a unity government after April 2 elections with senior posts for opponents leading street protests to oust him.

''I welcome everyone to form a government to mutually tackle the problems and take part in political reforms,'' Thaksin told 30,000 supporters at a rally in Bangkok. ''I want all the conflicts to end after April 2,'' he said.

Thaksin said he would offer a quota of seats to three opposition parties boycotting the poll they say cannot be fair.

There was no immediate reaction from the Democrat, Chart Thai and Mahachon parties who accuse the Thai leader of taking over institutions meant to be independent.

Media mogul Sondhi Limthongkul and retired general Chamlong Srimuang, both leaders in an ad-hoc coalition called the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), rejected Thaksin's offer of posts in a unity government, Thai radio reported.

Earlier today, thousands of PAD protesters marched through Bangkok's busy shopping district in a second day of a ''final push'' to oust Thaksin over allegations of corruption and abuses of power.

They chanted ''Vote no vote'' and handed out pink flags bearing the same slogan, urging people to mark the abstention box on ballot papers for the snap election Thaksin called three years early in hopes of ending a political crisis.

It was the first time the anti-Thaksin campaign, which intensified in January after his family sold their stake in the telecommunications empire he founded for a tax-free 1.9 billion dollars , has called systematically on people to cast their ballots.

Some 300 police kept watch as the protesters left the National Stadium early on Sunday to march several miles past plush shopping malls ranged along Sukhumvit Road.

By the time it reached the last, police estimated the crowd had dwindled from a peak of 10,000 to about half that number. MORE

REFERENDUM ON THAKSIN

The march followed a 50,000-strong rally yesterday night by PAD to urge King Bhumibol Adulyadej to replace Thaksin with a neutral government which would begin political reforms. The lower numbers at the rally compared to previous ones attended by 100,000, appeared to back up a poll last week showing that people in Bangkok, the centre of the anti-Thaksin campaign, were getting fed up after weeks of protests.

The palace has let it be known the king is following events closely but it has shown no sign he is willing to act against Thaksin, the only elected prime minister in Thai history to complete a full term.

He told Reuters on Friday he did not think the king -- who has intervened publicly twice in his 60-year reign, both times against military rulers -- would act.

Thaksin has turned the election into an effective referendum saying he would quit if his Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party got less than 50 per cent of the vote, hence the calls for people to cast abstentions.

''I don't care whether I will still be prime minister, but Thailand must stay and democracy must be strong,'' he told supporters chanting ''Thaksin fight, fight'' at his Bangkok rally.

The latest signal from the palace suggested it wanted the election to go ahead.

Former Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda, the head of the king's council of advisers, was shown on national television casting his ballot at an advance poll and urging people to vote.

''It may be hard for the People's Alliance for Democracy to accept, but Prem was sending a message: the time is not right for a royally appointed prime minister, unless something really, really bad happens,'' the fiercely anti-Thaksin Nation newspaper said in an editorial.

The protests have been peaceful so far despite police fears of violence in a country with a history of military coups and bloody street demonstrations, although there were minor scuffles today.

REUTERS

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