Tens of thousands rally against Thailand's Prime Minister

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

Anti-Thaksin protestor at an earlier rally in Bangkok, bearing anti-Thaksin slogans "We will fight for the King" and "Liberate the nation".

In the latest attempt to evict Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra ahead of next week's election, tens of thousands of protesters have rallied in Bangkok, Thailand. Officials say as many as 10,000 police have been mobilised for the protest against the Thai PM. Another 10,000 officers are on standby. Police estimated the crowd at 30,000 people.

Organisers had hoped the rally would draw one million people, but officials said about the same number of monks were chanting prayers for peace and unity nearby - far fewer than the 100,000 that attended earlier demonstrations.

Thaskin has called a snap election three years early in hopes of ending the crisis. There have been chants of "Thaksin, get out". There are reports of bands playing music near the Prime Minister's offices. A sign written in English has been posted on the fence of Government House reading "For Rent".

A poll released this week showed Bangkok people are becoming fed up after weeks of rallying. Today's rally was a "united call" on King Bhumibol Adulyadej to replace Thaksin. The palace reports that the king is following events closely but says there are no signs he will act against Thaksin. The monarch has intervened publicly twice in his 60-year reign. The campaigners want the king to appoint a neutral government to carry out political reforms.

The three main opposition parties are boycotting the election, declaring the electoral process "unfair" as Thaksin has taken over the independent institutions. Thaksin, once the richest man in Thailand, transferred ownership of his companies to family members and employees prior to becoming Prime Minister.

The weekly rallies in Bangkok, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, make the movement to depose the troubled Thaksin the "largest massing of public dissent since 1992," when huge demonstrations and the army's subsequent massacre of protesters culminated in the end of military rule in Thailand.

The latest rally on Saturday launched a series of protests due to continue with a march through the main shopping district. The protestors will converge on police headquarters on Monday to demand criminal charges be brought against the prime minister.

Police would be stationed at the rally site, near his office, and at other key government offices, national police spokesman General Achirawit Suphanaphesat said. Thaksin, who has been accused of clamping down on dissent and stifling freedom of the press, vowed to call a state of emergency if protests turn violent.