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Thai Prime Minister Under Increasing Pressure to Resign


Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is under increasing pressure to resign. He is facing growing protests and Wednesday his decision to hold early elections in April suffered a major setback. Mr. Thaksin says he is mulling all options now to end the political crisis.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's effort to ride out the storm of protests against his government received another setback Wednesday when election officials disqualified more than a third of candidates for April 2's snap elections.

Most were disallowed because they had not been registered with their political party for the required 90 days.

As a result, Mr. Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party is running unopposed in more than two-thirds of the constituencies - casting more doubt on the election called three years early to diffuse a growing political crisis.

The three main opposition parties are boycotting the vote - saying the only way to achieve reform is if Mr. Thaksin steps down.

The prime minister has been accused of corruption and abuse of power. His problems began in January when his family sold $2 billion worth of shares in the company he founded - tax-free. While legal, public reaction was critical.

There have been almost weekly anti-government rallies by tens of thousands of protesters.

This week, demonstrators began what they say will be a daily vigil outside the prime minister's offices until he resigns.

Campaigning in northeast Thailand Wednesday, Mr. Thaksin answered the latest round of questions from reporters - including whether he would be willing to step down temporarily.

He says he is considering all options and will make his decision when the time is right, based on what is good for the country - and not in reaction to pressure.

Mr. Thaksin, who was reelected by a landslide last year, still enjoys wide support in the countryside - where his populist health and rural-credit programs have had an impact.

The anti-Thaksin forces draw most of their support from the urban middle-class, which accuses him of corruption and of undermining checks-and-balances enshrined in Thailand's nine year-old constitution.

Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University Professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak says that neither side so far has been willing to compromise.

"I think we're at the point of an endgame. Pretty soon we'll see something approaching some kind of an exit for Thaksin, a negotiated exit, at which time there'll be some kind of a talk," he said.

Thitinan says a minority in Bangkok is trying to eject a popularly elected leader from office and this poses a new challenge to Thai democracy. He adds that it also underscores what he calls the rural urban divide in Thailand, which must also be addressed.

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