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Thai Opposition Reject PM's Compromise Offer


Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has offered to postpone snap elections he called four days ago in response to growing protests against his leadership. He also offered to meet the opposition to resolve the emerging political crisis - but that offer has been rejected. Opposition parties say Mr. Thaksin must step down.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra Tuesday offered to meet the leader of the opposition Democrat Party, Abhisit Vejjajiva, in order to defuse rising political crisis over his leadership.

Mr. Thaksin says he would like the process to be democratic and constitutional and he is willing to meet Abhisit anywhere to discuss it. He also indicated he might postpone snap elections due in five weeks.

But Abhisit, after meeting with leaders of the two other main opposition parties, rejected the offer because it did not address political reform, which he says is their main grievance.

Abhisit says he wants to hold a discussion between the opposition and the ruling parties to find a practical way to revise the law and resolve the situation the country is now facing.

The opposition says Mr. Thaksin must step aside in order to allow an appointed, neutral body to revise the constitution.

The three parties Monday announced they would boycott the April 2 election called by the prime minister in response to growing anti-government protests. The opposition says Mr. Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party would win any election because it controls government and the election commission.

The latest political maneuvering follows a mass demonstration in Bangkok Sunday - the third in three weeks - by tens of thousands of protestors calling for the prime minister to get out.

Organizers say Mr. Thaksin has until Sunday to resign or face what they called the biggest show of peaceful popular opposition ever.

The political crisis started when Mr. Thaksin's family sold nearly $2 billion worth of stock in the company he founded without paying any taxes.

The tax-free sale was legal but it angered many Thais. Since then almost weekly rallies led by academics, unions and civic groups have accused the Thaksin government of corruption and abuse of power.

A professor at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, Panitan Wattanayagorn, says many Thais support the dissolution of parliament and the call for early elections. But he says some are becoming worried that the continuing protests will impact the kingdom's young democracy.

"All these activities are taking place outside of the framework supported by the constitution, especially the potential of violence and conflict that is looming larger and larger every day," he says.

Mr. Thaksin continues to enjoy wide support among rural people and the poor, who helped re-elect him by a landslide one year ago. However, the protestors have vowed they will continue their demonstrations until Mr. Thaksin steps down. And opposition parties, at present, appear satisfied to use the popular groundswell to press their agenda for reform.

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