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Anti-Thaksin rally to move to giant Bangkok mall

Written by: Staff
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BANGKOK, Mar 28: Leaders of a campaign to oust Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra will move their protest to Bangkok's poshest mall despite objections from police who fear it will turn the city's notorious traffic jams into gridlock.

The protesters will move from Thaksin's headquarters, where they have camped out for three weeks and closed some roads, to seek support from businesspeople and white-collar workers in the main shopping area, its leaders said today.

''We want to inform the young men and women there about our reasons for rallying and to request a royally appointed prime minister,'' protest leader Chamlong Srimuang told reporters.

''We need to discuss further how many days we will camp out at Siam Paragon,'' said Chamlong, an ascetic retired army general who leads the coalition of Thaksin opponents, The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), against his former political protege.

The PAD plans to move tomorrow, despite police urging its leaders not to because they fear the rally at the Siam Paragon mall, opened in December and claiming to be Southeast Asia's largest, will cause gridlock over a wide area.

The road in front of the mall was a main commuting route in the central business area, city traffic police chief Panu Gerdlabpol told a radio station.

''The rally will paralyse Bangkok's traffic,'' he said. ''The solution for the police is so easy -- go and ask Thaksin to quit. Then everything will be over,'' Chamlong said in reply. Siam Paragon, along with two other malls nearby, said it would close for two days, saying the protest would block delivery trucks and prevent customers arriving by car.

Chamlong, a former fighter in the Vietnam War, and other PAD leaders have mobilised crowds in various areas of the capital, turning up the heat on Thaksin in hopes disgruntled motorists would help them topple him.

PRAYED FOR PEACE

An unperturbed Thaksin, on a Buddhist pilgrimage in his northern hometown of Chiang Mai, said the government would use restraint in dealing with the protesters.

''We won't use force because we don't want violence, but everyone has to abide by the rules,'' said Thaksin, who said he prayed at a Buddhist shrine for peace to return to Thailand.

On Sunday, 10,000 protesters marched through the main shopping district, past Siam Paragon and along Sukhumvit road, the site of several other malls.

Motorists and shoppers caught in the congestion were furious, with some saying they supported the campaign against Thaksin but thought disrupting ordinary lives was too much.

However, the embattled former telecoms tycoon can take heart from the latest opinion polls, which suggest more and more people in and around Bangkok are getting fed up with the protests and the traffic congestion they are causing.

Only 25.8 per cent of 1,116 respondents in and around Bangkok said Thaksin should quit compared with 48.2 per cent who said so on March 6, Assumption University said in its poll today.

About 24 per cent of the respondents agreed with asking King Bhumibol Adulyadej to appoint a neutral prime minister, compared to 46.1 per cent on March 6, the poll said.

The constitutional monarch has intervened publicly only twice in his 60-year reign, both times against military rulers.

However, Chamlong said that although the rally would go on, there would be no speeches over the weekend as that might break laws governing the April 2 snap poll called by Thaksin and boycotted by the three major opposition parties.

''We have to abide by the law, otherwise we will be arrested.'' The opposition boycott means the election is unlikely to produce a full 500-member parliament, which is needed to elect a new prime minister and form a new government, because a winning candidate needs at least 20 per cent of the eligible vote.

A constitutional crisis is almost certain to follow, political analysts say.

REUTERS

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