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Thousands of Thais Call for Resignation of Prime Minister


Thousands of protesters have demonstrated in Bangkok, calling for the resignation of Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whom they charge with corruption and misuse of office. However, the prime minister says he will not bow to public pressure.

The demonstrators began gathering at midday on a boulevard in front of Thailand's old parliament building. They listened to speeches accusing the government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of corruption, cronyism and authoritarian tendencies.

Khun Wiritthiphol left his shop to hand out leaflets at the rally calling for Mr. Thaksin's resignation.

"He took so much money. This is a problem, and, I think, if we don't tell him to stop this, or we still accept him, this means that, in Thailand, we accept something that's not right," he said.

Khun Natalie, a small business owner who initially supported Mr. Thaksin, says changes are needed to the Thai political system.

"The government should consider the voice of the people. It should put a panel for discussion with the representatives of the nation," Natalie said. "Let's look at what has been wrong, what can be corrected, and what can change. Let's put some time-frame into it. And he might have a chance."

Saturday's demonstration was the latest in a series of anti-government rallies organized by media tycoon Sondhi Limthongkul. They began after his talk show was removed from state television last September.

Sondhi accuses the government of corruption, cronyism and muzzling the independent news media.

Sondhi Saturday night led the crowd in shouts of "Thaksin, get out."

The movement was galvanized two weeks ago, after the Thaksin family sold nearly $2 billion worth of stock in the telecommunications conglomerate founded by Mr. Thaksin. The sale angered the public, because it avoided - legally - a 30 percent tax on the profits.

Critics also charged the sale involved insider trading and loss of control of strategic national communications assets.

Mr. Thaksin, in his weekly radio broadcast, explained that the sale was legal and vowed to stay on.

Mr. Thaksin says the people's kindness makes him want to continue to serve, especially when most of the people of Thailand need help.

Mr. Thaksin said, to quit would be a betrayal of the 19 million people, who voted for him in elections one year ago, and said he would only step down, if Thailand's revered King Bhumibhol Adulyadej asked for his resignation.

The prime minister, one of Thailand's wealthiest men, sold his business interests to family members before coming to power five years ago in a landslide election. Nevertheless, he has been plagued by charges that he remains in control of the family fortune, and has used his political office to expand it.

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