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Thai PM Thaksin says to step down, unclear when

Written by: Staff
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BANGKOK, Apr 4 (Reuters) Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said today he would step down to defuse a long-running political crisis, although it remained unclear exactly when.

''I want to retreat by not taking the prime ministership, but I have to be caretaker prime minister until the selection process for the next Prime Minister is complete,'' he said in a nationally televised address. He did not name a successor.

It was not certain, however, when parliament would convene as last Sunday's election left 38 constituencies without winners because uncontested candidates did not get the 20 percent of the eligible vote required to take the seat.

The constitution says all seats must be filled before a new Prime Minister can be elected.

The opposition Democrat Party said it still doubted Thaksin's motives, saying he appeared to have gone back on a commitment made on Monday night to stand down immediately if certain conditions were fulfilled.

''That's already different from what he said last night. Last night he said he would resign immediately,'' party spokesman Korn Chatikavanij told Reuters.

''He's trying to dictate the terms of his departure. He's trying to get around the election law by forcing parliament to open. I don't think anybody is in a position to force parliament to open illegally.'' Opponents demanding he resign over allegations of corruption and abuse of power said earlier they would stop street protests and take part in a new election if he quit immediately.

Mr Thaskin offered last night to resign if they called off the protests and joined a new election he said could take place 15 months after last Sunday's, which was boycotted by the main opposition parties.

RECONCILIATION CALL Thaksin called Sunday's snap poll to defuse a street campaign led by a former business ally, Sondhi Limthongkul, and his political mentor, retired general Chamlong Srimuang.

Appearing on a television talk show yesterday, Thaksin did not repeat recent calls for law and order, seen by some as a threat to crack down on protests that took off in January after the tax-free sale of the telecommunications empire he founded.

Thaksin, 56, said he wanted reconciliation after the poll boycott by the Democrat, Chart Thai and Mahachon parties.

''I will do anything. I have retreated so many steps that my back is against the wall,'' he said.

Mr Thaksin said his Thai Rak Thai party (TRT) had won 16 million votes, a fall of 3 million from the landslide win in February last year, although official returns are far from complete.

He said 10 million voters abstained -- effectively a vote against him -- spoiled their ballots or chose minor parties, threatening a continuation of a crisis hurting the economy.

MsThaksin proposed that a group of former judges, university chiefs and prime ministers seek a way out of the political mess and said he would quit if they recommended his exit.

The opposition said the proposed panel was ''irrelevant'' and dismissed Thaksin's call for reconciliation, but it cannot put up candidates in the by-elections for the 38 seats left vacant after Sunday's poll.

REUTERS VJ PC2020

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