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Thai PM calls snap poll as mass protests continue

THAI Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has dissolved parliament and called a snap election, but anti-government protest leaders pressed ahead with mass demonstrations in Bangkok seeking to install an unelected body to run the country.

Police estimated 160,000 ­protesters converged on Yingluck's office at Government House yesterday but there was none of the violence and bloodshed seen before the demonstrations paused last Thursday out of respect for the king's birthday.

The protesters want to oust Ms Yingluck and eradicate the influence of her brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled by the military in 2006 and has chosen to live in exile rather than serve a jail term for corruption.

There was a carnival atmosphere as protesters gathered at Government House, with unarmed police and troops inside the gates. The demonstrators made no attempt to get into the grounds but said they would camp outside overnight.

After nightfall, protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban made a speech to his supporters. "From this minute onwards, all Thais have taken power back for the people," he said.

He called Ms Yingluck's ­government incompetent and corrupt for policies such as a costly rice intervention scheme and water management projects, and he said the people would select a new prime minister. But he gave no clues as to how that would be done, or how he planned to take power.

Aware allies of Ms Yingluck and Mr Thaksin would almost certainly win any election, Mr Suthep has called for a "people's council" of appointed "good people" to replace the government.

As such, he was dismissive of the early election. "The dissolving of parliament is not our aim," he said.

Opposition Democrat Party lawmakers resigned en masse from parliament on Sunday, saying they could not work with Ms Yingluck.

Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva sidestepped a question on whether his party would take part in the election.

He said: "House dissolution is the first step towards solving the problem. Today, we march. I will walk with the people to Government House."

An election would not end the deadlock if the main opposition party did not take part, said Pavin Chachavalpongpun of Kyoto University's Centre for Southeast Asian Studies.

He added: "This is only a short-term solution because there is no guarantee the Democrats will come back and play by the rules. It seems like Thailand is going nowhere."

In April 2006, amid mass protests, the Democrats refused to contest a snap election called by Mr Thaksin, who was deposed by the military five months later.

Ms Yingluck announced the ­election in a televised statement, saying: "At this stage, when there are many people opposed to the government from many groups, the best way is to give back the power to the Thai people and hold an election. So the Thai people will decide."

The government said the vote would be held on February 2.

Mr Suthep's campaign opens up the prospect of a minority of people in Thailand, a country of 66 million and the second-biggest economy in south-east Asia, dislodging a democratically elected leader, this time without help from the military.

The politically powerful army has said it does not want to get involved, although it has tried to mediate.

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