Thu, Mar 16, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Thaksin to consider stepping down

TEMPORARY MEASURE The Thai prime minister did not say when he might step aside or for how long, while his opponents vowed to keep up their protests

AP , BANGKOK

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said yesterday he would consider stepping down temporarily, but continued his political parries against opponents who demand he resign for alleged corruption and abuse of power.

Thaksin, who denies any wrongdoing, did not say when, or for how long, he might step down.

He made his comments in northeastern Thailand while campaigning for elections he called for April 2 in hopes of refreshing his mandate and deflating the growing movement against him.

Meanwhile, the Election Commission said it was considering a postponement of the election because of an opposition boycott.

Many constituencies have only one candidate -- from Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai Party. But his victory would not be certifiable if he failed to win the votes of at least 20 percent of the district's eligible voters. That would make it impossible to fill the 500 seats in the House of Representatives, a constitutional requirement for convening parliament.

Thaksin met yesterday with Luangpor Koon, a popular Buddhist monk in the region, a move traditionally made by virtually all politicians seeking to attract northeastern voters.

Thousands of Thaksin supporters from the northeast -- a stronghold of his support -- gathered on the outskirts of the Thai capital, Bangkok, to demonstrate their loyalty to the Thai leader.

They said, however, they would not enter the city, where there would be a risk of confrontation with anti-Thaksin demonstrators.

Critics have suggested that Thaksin step aside before the polls and appoint a neutral replacement to oversee proposed reforms to the Constitution, a move that would help defuse the growing protests.

When asked by a reporter what he thought of stepping aside, he said: "It is a good proposal, and I am considering this."

"This does not mean that I would bow to mob rule. I have to take some time to consider and decide what to do, because I have a duty to complete my mission," he told reporters in Buriram Province.

Thaksin's statements came amid speculation that he already has designated a replacement, Deputy Prime Minister Chitchai Wannasathit, who on Tuesday was unexpectedly promoted to the No. 2 position in the Cabinet. Chitchai, in charge of security affairs, is a longtime, trusted associate of the Thai leader.

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