Feature: Mass anti-Thaksin rally continues ahead of snap election in Thailand

While sweating under the scorching sunlight and a sea of colorful Thai flags, tens of thousands protestors listened to anti-Thaksin speeches in a rally near the premier's office in Bangkok Saturday afternoon.

They were mobilized to unseat the caretaker Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra ahead of the April 2 election.

Several meters away from the crowd stands a makeshift stage, on which speakers from the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) came onto the platform in turn to lash the prime minister over charges of corruption and abuse of power.

Wearing yellow headband with words "Save the Nation", the protestors applauded and chanted "Thaksin, down!" "Thaksin, out!" whenever the lecturers concluded their speeches. Orange posters reading "Change through peace" and "Non-violence" punctuated the crowd.

"Thaksin is bad, and most of Thais don't like him," Chidchai, a 34-year-old shop owner told Xinhua. Chidchai and his group of roughly 10 people hailed from the central Chonburi province, some 94 km south of Bangkok. They have been staying at the rally site since Friday and will not return home until Sunday.

"Thaksin sold our telecom company to a foreign country and his party is very corrupt," said Chidchai, waving a large green flag symbolizing the PAD.

The anti-Thaksin campaign geared up last month after Thaksin's family sold its controlling stake in telecom giant Shin Corp. to a Singapore state-owned investment company for 1.9 billion U.S. dollars.

Critics alleged the sale involved insider trading and tax dodges, and complained that a key national asset is now in a foreign government's hands.

Thousands of more are expected to join the gathering later, which security officials have stationed to avoid eruption of violence.

Main roads leading to the demonstration site have been blocked as police patrolled around with batons in hands.

Protest leaders said the demonstrators would proceed with a protracted campaign until Thaksin steps down. They planned another march to the premier's residence and rallies at the capital's major shopping district on Sunday.

As a signal to push forward the April 2 polls, Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda and other leading dignitaries and public figures cast their ballots in or around Bangkok Saturday.

Early ballots can be cast over the weekend by anyone who expects to be away from his or her constituency on April 2.

However, analysts worried the election may fail to solve any problem since it seems unlikely to produce 500 members of the House required to form a government, not to mention to undertake constitutional reforms.

Thailand's leading opposition party, the Democrat, Friday joined the growing calls for the king to bestow a new prime minister to end the country's political stand-off.

Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva told a gathering of some 40, 000 supporters near the Grand Palace in central Bangkok that at this time of crisis, the king is the only one people can turn to.

He said the April 2 poll is not a solution for a political stalemate as it was designed to serve Thaksin's interest.

The Democrats have repeatedly accused the ruling Thai Rak Thai party of hacking into the Election Commission's database to enable disqualified candidates from small parties to run in the election apart from paying candidates to make them contest.

On Wednesday, Thailand's army chief Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin told the prime minister that the current situation does not yet warrant the use of military force, because resorting to this would damage the government's image.

Thaksin has been battling weeks of street demonstrations by boosting support outside the capital, considered as a painstaking effort to return with a fresh mandate in the upcoming election.

Strongly backed by the nation's 60 million rural population who benefited from his populist policies, the beleagued premier called the election three years early than schedule in hopes of defusing political fury but was boycotted by three major opposition parties.

The prime minister insisted he would not bow to "mob rule" and vowed to leave office if only wining less than half the votes.

As the tropical air cooled down and the night approached, more people started to embark on their march to the congested gathering location.

IT manager Channarong, 33, just arrived in Bangkok from Phuket by bus with his daughter and they planed to stay at the venue the night.

"We want Thaksin to get out, and he is the root cause of all problems of our country, "said Channarong.

"My Dad told me Thaksin took our money and sold everything," the 8-year-old little girl sitting nearby made an abrupt comment.

Channarong explained he took his daughter here to show her how Thais lived and how to fight for democracy.

Source: Xinhua



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