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Thai PM Under Mounting Pressure, Dissolves Parliament


Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has dissolved parliament, making way for elections just one year after he was re-elected in a landslide. The poll date has been set for April 2.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra made the announcement Friday after meeting with Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The prime minister earlier in the day indicated in a speech to farmers that elections might be imminent.

"You have seen me for five years. If you do not like me, send me home," he said. "If you want me, vote for me and I will continue working."

The call for new elections is not likely to satisfy a coalition of opposition groups that has been calling for the prime minister to resign on the grounds of corruption and abuse of power. The coalition, called the People's Alliance for Democracy, is to stage its third mass rally in four weeks on Sunday.

One of the coalition's leaders, Suriyasai Katasila, says the rallies will continue until the prime minister steps down. He says Mr. Thaksin must resign as prime minister without any conditions.

Criticism of the Thai prime minister surged after family members sold nearly $2 billion worth of shares in the company he founded to a Singaporean firm. The sale angered many Thais because it legally avoided any taxes and it transferred strategic assets into foreign hands.

Since then, university students and professors have started a petition calling for the prime minister's resignation.

The leader of demonstrations that brought down the last military dictatorship 14 years ago has publicly said Mr. Thaksin no longer has the moral legitimacy to govern. And the military leader who was then overthrown has said Mr. Thaksin should call elections in order to avoid civil unrest.

However, Mr. Thaksin has indicated he intends to fight back. He remains popular among rural people and the poor. Analysts say his party could win the upcoming election, but not with the three-fourths majority of seats it has enjoyed until now.

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