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Anti-Thai PM protesters abandon Bangkok malls

Written by: Staff

BANGKOK, Mar 30: Leaders of a campaign to oust Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra cut short their protest at Bangkok's biggest shopping mall today amid signs of a public wearying of weeks of street demonstrations.

The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), the ad hoc coalition bent on driving the telecoms billionaire from office, shifted to the nearby Election Commission after its yesterday night rally drew 50,000 people to Siam Paragon mall.

It demanded the commission disqualify Thaksin from the snap April 2 election he called to try to end the political crisis, saying he broke campaign rules by promising development projects and handing out money to voters in return for their support.

Thaksin denies the allegation.

The PAD had hoped its campaign and a boycott by the three main opposition parties would stop the poll taking place.

But it now looks certain to go ahead, although the boycott means its result is unlikely to meet a constitutional requirement that all 500 parliamentary seats be filled for a new government to form.

Democrat party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said the only certain outcome was a political mess that could ultimately embroil the Constitutional Court, suggesting no quick fix to a crisis that has hit the stock market and economic growth forecasts.

''There are still many problems ahead even after April 2nd, and Thaksin's legitimacy will still be questioned,'' Abhisit told Reuters in an interview.

Even Abhisit himself had to cut short his campaign rally in Thaksin's northern hometown of Chiang Mai today after 500 pro-Thaksin protesters disrupted his five-minute speech, throwing wooden placards and plastic chairs on the stage, a witness said.

''Democrats, Get Out,'' a Reuters photograhper quoted an angry crowd of mainly women chanting the slogan and banging placards beside the stage while Abhisit was speaking.

Abhisit had to be whisked away by the police to the Chiang Mai airport to head back to Bangkok.

Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party, which won 377 seats in a February 2005 general election, is expected to win another thumping majority on Sunday thanks to unwavering support from the rural masses. Thaksin today urged all parties to respect the election results and stop the protests. ''After the elections, the country can no longer be clouded by uncertainty.

''Everyone has to respect the rules. We have already wasted so much time,'' he told reporters.

But the PAD is vowing to continue its fight regardless.

''We expect a larger rally after elections that won't solve the political deadlock,'' PAD leader Chamlong Srimuang, the man who brought Thaksin into politics, told reporters.

''We'll see how we can help find a solution to the crisis,'' the retired general said before leading 3,000 protesters, who had camped outside Siam Paragon and two nearby malls overnight, to march two blocks to the Election Commission.

Chamlong, an ascetic 70-year-old veteran of the Vietnam War who was twice governor of Bangkok, said the protesters had left the streets outside Bangkok's glitziest malls because they proved a poor place to hold rallies.

He conceded the gatherings outside the malls, which closed in anticipation of disruption of business, were unpopular.

''If the rally continued, it would worsen the traffic,'' said Chamlong, who had said earlier a few days of gridlock was nothing compared to freeing Thailand from the grip of a ''tyrant''.

In its latest ABAC poll, conducted on Monday, Assumption University said only 20 per cent of 1,116 respondents in and around the capital supported rallies against Thaksin, whom critics accuse of corruption, cronyism and abuse of power.

Only 26 per cent of Bangkok people thought Thaksin should quit, compared to 27 per cent two days previously and 48 per cent three weeks earlier. About 42 per cent of its respondents said Thaksin should stay, compared to a low of 26 percent on March 6.


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