Supporters of Thai prime minister march on Bangkok

A 30,000-strong "Caravan of the Poor" began a march on Bangkok Friday to demonstrate their backing of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is vowing to stay in his job despite mass protests against him in the Thai capital.

The marchers, mostly farmers from Thailand's northern provinces, regrouped on the outskirts of Bangkok and were expected to arrive at the city's Chatuchak Park by Friday evening. Organizer Kamta Kanbunchan told reporters that poor rural people are grateful for what Thaksin has done for them and that he should remain as prime minister.

Thaksin's populist policies have insured him mass support in the countryside, but a loose alliance of pro-democracy groups, students, labor unions and Buddhist activists accuse him of corruption and the gutting of democratic institutions.

In what has become a daily event in the capital, anti-Thaksin groups were to gather in downtown Bangkok to march to the Singaporean Embassy while the prime minister planned a day of political campaigning in two western provinces. The protesters say Thaksin sold off a national asset to a foreign country when his family's telecoms giant, Shin Corp., was bought up by a state-own firm in Singapore.

Demonstrators also continued to ring Government House, the seat of government, vowing not to lift their around-the-clock peaceful siege until Thaksin resigned.

Thaksin denies any wrongdoing and has vowed to hold onto his job in the face of the street protests, saying he would not bow to mob rule but that he might retire from politics at a later date. Meanwhile he is campaigning vigorously for snap elections he called to defuse the crisis.

"I will go forward and rely on the principles of democracy. If the people do not vote for me, I will back out. If the people go to exercise their right to vote on April 2, I ask that they please help bring me into the Government House," Thaksin told about 10,000 sugar cane farmers Friday in Kanchanaburi province.

A boycott of the election by the three opposition parties in parliament has sparked rising concern about whether there is any point to holding the polls, because it appears increasingly likely the results would not allow parliament to be legally convened, reports the AP.

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