Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra vowed yesterday to keep fighting against calls for his resignation, as one of his Cabinet ministers resigned ahead of a major protest planned for the weekend.
Meanwhile a new poll showed Thaksin's approval ratings have dropped amid public outcry over his family's sale of its share of the telecom giant that he founded, Shin Corp, for almost US$1.9 billion.
"I will go on fighting. There were 19 million people who voted for me," a teary-eyed Thaksin told supporters as he visited Bangkok's poorest slum.
He urged people not to attend Saturday's rally, where his rivals plan to petition the king to name a new prime minister.
"I told my supporters, people who love me, not to go to listen to those good liars. Please stay home," he said.
Thaksin's leading critic, media mogul Sondhi Limthongkul, expects tens of thousands of people at the rally.
Questions about the sale last week to Singapore's state-owned investment firm Temasek have prompted regulators to investigate Thaksin's two children, while sparking public anger for avoiding a 30 percent capital-gains tax.
The furore rattled Thaksin's Cabinet yesterday, as his Cultural Minister announced her resignation.
"Under the current circumstances I have wondered whether to quit or to stay. And now my final decision is to quit the Cabinet in order to preserve political ethics," Uraiwan Thienthong told a press conference.
Uraiwan is married to Sanoh Thienthong, who leads one of the major factions within Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party.
Her resignation was the latest political fallout from the controversy, which has dragged down Thaksin's already sagging popularity.
A billionaire telecom tycoon, Thaksin swept to power five years ago promising to fight poverty and improve the lives of poor farmers.
His re-election one year ago gave him an absolute majority in parliament and made him the most powerful leader ever elected in Thailand.
But Shinawatra's popularity has suffered in recent months, especially among the urban middle class, amid growing concern about his crackdown on independent media, his failure to quell unrest in the Muslim-majority south, and the latest controversy over Shin Corp.
His family last week sold their nearly 50 percent stake in Shin Corp to Temasek.
Thailand's Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday ruled that his two children were not guilty of insider trading, but his son could still face a hefty fine for failing to disclose all the details of the deal.
Thai police say they will deploy 4,500 officers at the rally, which Interior Minister Kongsak Vantana said he feared could turn violent.
"I am concerned for the safety of the public. I am afraid of third-party interference, and I still think that tens of thousands of demonstrators will attend," he said.
A poll released yesterday found that public confidence in Thaksin's government had dropped to the lowest point since the survey began 10 months ago.
Public confidence in the administration dipped to 97.6 points in January. Ratings below 100 indicate public disapproval of the government.
The Jan. 20-31 survey of 7,211 people by Suan Dusit University found that Thais are worried about the sale, allegations of government corruption, and unrest in the south that has left more than 1,000 dead.