Followers of Thai prime minister march on Bangkok

A 30,000-strong "Caravan of the Poor" marched on Bangkok on 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 began arriving Friday afternoon at the city's Chatuchak Park . 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 widespread 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 in downtown Bangkok marched 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-owned 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 April 2 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.

Members of the country's Election Commission have said they are considering a postponement of the election. All 500 seats in the House of Representatives must have a winner in the elections for Parliament to be legally convened.

However, many constituencies have only one candidate from Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai Party. And their victories would be valid only if candidates win the votes of at least 20 percent of the district's eligible voters, which is highly unlikely in some districts where Thaksin's party has little support.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal of Udom Kraiwatnuson, a Thai Rak Thai party candidate in Samut Sakorn province, whom the Election Commission had disqualified, said Somchit Thongpradap, the judge in charge of election court cases. The verdict left the constituency as the first one with no candidate at all.

An abortive election could serve the purposes of Thaksin's opponents in either of two ways. It could put enough pressure on Thaksin to persuade him step down, or it could be seen as provoking a serious enough crisis to have King Bhumibol Adulyadej intervene under a clause in the constitution to have a new head of government installed, reports the AP.


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