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Thai PM Rejects Opposition Calls to Resign

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has rejected calls for the government to resign, as rallies against his administration moved into their second day. Analysts say political tensions remain high due to increasing pressure on the government to call fresh general elections and the ouster of the three-month-old administration.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva Friday refused to bow to anti-government protest calls for the government to resign and open the way for fresh general elections.

The refusal by Mr. Abhisit came a day after some 35,000 protesters, most wearing the distinctive red shirts, surrounded the government's main administration building. But the numbers had fallen away by Friday afternoon to a few thousand, although more were expected to gather later at the rally.

The protests have been led by supporters of deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who now lives in exile after fleeing Thailand last year in the face of a court case on corruption charges.

Mr. Abhist, leading a six party coalition government, came to power last December after former coalition partners broke away from a pro-Thaksin government elected to office in 2007 after a court decision weakened the then governing party.

Sunai Pasuk, a representative in Thailand for Human Rights Watch, said the protests are viewed as a possible step by Thaksin to return to power by pressuring for fresh general elections. Thaksin remains popular among the urban poor and rural classes where he built political support through populist economic policies.

"The protests show a last attempt by Thaksin supporters to mobilize their force with a very clear aim that it's not only to overthrow the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva but to expose a very complicated network of conservative forces that put Abhisit Vejjajiva into power," said Sunai.

Pro-Thaksin supporters point to the military, elites and business backing the rise to power of Mr. Abhisit and undermining the former pro-Thaksin administration. They are also calling on the government to prosecute leaders of the opposing People's Alliance for Democracy or PAD whose protests last year included seizure of government house and national airports.

Pasuk says Thaksin has been presenting himself as a political martyr.

"Thaksin presents himself as a democratic icon that was ousted by undemocratic means by a military coup regardless of the fact that while he was in power Thaksin was known for violating all basic human rights and democratic principles," he said. "Now he is presenting himself as a martyr who vows to resurrect democracy in Thailand which is quite a twisted irony."

But Chris Baker, a commentator and author on Thai politics and the economy, says the rallies also reflect deep social divisions in Thai society, often split along economic lines.

"The red shirts want to make a very clear point about the lack of equity in the [Thai] justice system," he said. "In some ways they're really are trying to say that this is not a really very equitable society."

Analysts say the rallies are also seen as trying to pressure the government to make way for amnesties that would include pro-Thaksin politicians facing bans, as well as the PAD. But Prime Minister Abhisit has ruled out legislation for national reconciliation.