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Thai PM back in public eye after "political break"

By Staff
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BANGKOK, May 5 (Reuters) Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra steps back into the public eye today, leading ceremonies in honour of the country's revered king in his first official duty since taking a ''political break'' last month.

Thaksin waved to reporters but said nothing after leading cabinet ministers to an audience with King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the Royal Palace to mark the Coronation Day holiday.

Later today, Thaksin will host a gala dinner at Government House, the first time he has set foot in his old office since handing day-to-day duties to a deputy in early April.

''This does not signal anything political. Thaksin has to lead the two events because he is still prime minister,'' Prommin Lertsuridej, secretary to the prime minister, told Reuters.

He said Thaksin would oversee June ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the king's accession to the throne if there is no new government by then.

''Everything is the same. He is not going to resume his office duties, but only those that are royally related,'' Prommin said.

Thaksin has kept a low profile since he stepped aside after the April 2 general election he called three years early to stop a Bangkok-based street campaign demanding he quit over allegations of corruption and abuses of power.

After the poll, which revealed a strong protest vote and left Thaksin unable to form a government, the former telecoms tycoon announced he was taking a ''political break'' and passed day-to-day work to his deputy, Chidchai Vanasatidya.

Critics fear Thaksin's departure is purely cosmetic and that he will return as prime minister despite saying he would not be a candidate for the post.

Chidchai said last week if the country's top courts nullified the April 2 result, as analysts say looks increasingly likely, then Thaksin would not have to keep his pledge -- a move likely to fuel fresh street protests.

A decision on two petitions seeking to quash the inconclusive poll will be announced by the country's Constitutional Court on Monday at 10 a.m. (0300 GMT).

Some analysts expect the 14-judge court to agree with a group of law lecturers demanding the April 2 election to be scrapped. But what happens next is unclear.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political science professor at Chulalongkorn University, said fresh elections were likely since parliament had been unable to meet since the poll.

An election boycott by the main opposition left seats unfilled and parliament constitutionally unable to pick a new leader.

Election reruns failed to fill all the empty seats and break the political deadlock.

But annuling the April 2 vote could trigger lawsuits from newly elected members of Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party, ''who will not submit to a new poll without a fight'', Thitinan said.

Members of the Election Commission, widely criticised for their handling of the April 2 poll, have also threatened to sue.

''While much noise and clamour against a new election are likely in the days ahead, all judicial roads appear to point towards the annulment of the April 2 election,'' Thitinan wrote in the Bangkok Post newspaper today.

REUTERS CH PM1403

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