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Thaksin supporters surround premier's offices for a third day

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva (pictured) vowed to remain in power as more than 1,000 protesters surrounded his offices for a third day following a video address by ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra to his supporters.

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AFP - Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva was adamant he would remain in power Saturday as more than 1,000 protesters surrounded his offices for a third day after a speech by former leader Thaksin Shinawatra.

The prime minister rejected Thaksin's call, made a night earlier in an angry video address to the rally, for the dissolution of the Lower House, and told reporters his priority was to end months of political turmoil in the kingdom.

"I'm not sure what Thaksin wants. Sometimes he says he wants constitutional amendments first, but this time he proposed house dissolution, which he has never mentioned before," Abhisit said.

"I think stability is most crucial to our country... I don't think we can organise orderly and peaceful free and fair elections under these circumstances of serious conflict," he added.

But the premier would not be drawn on Thaksin's assertion that the revered king's advisors were responsible for a coup against him in 2006.

The fugitive former prime minister told tens of thousands of his loyal supporters that ex-premiers General Prem Tinsulanonda and General Surayud Chulanont were behind the coup that unseated him and "led to all this mess."

Prem led the country's government during the 1980s, while Surayud was in charge of the military-led administration that ran the country following Thaksin's ouster until elections in December 2007.

Both now act as key advisors to the country's king.

"It's all an old story," Abhisit said. "All those who have been implicated must answer the claims themselves."

Surayud is expected to address media at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport later Saturday.

Police said 3,200 officers and 6,000 soldiers were manning the rally site, but the situation was calm.

"There are around 1,300 protesters in front of Government House. The situation is peaceful," police spokesman Major General Suporn Phansua told AFP.

Spurred on by Thaksin's address, protest leaders dressed in red to signal their loyalty to Thaksin vowed on Friday to remain on the street indefinitely.

"We will continue to stay here. Now the 'red shirts' have gained too much momentum to be stopped," protest leader Nattawut Saikuar said.

The rally's numbers have dwindled during the day since Thursday, but swelled to tens of thousands of people each evening for Thaksin's speeches. Thaksin is due to speak to the crowd again late Saturday.

British-born Abhisit has said he will not seek the group's dispersal by force.

Thaksin, currently living in exile to avoid a two-year jail sentence for corruption, is awaiting a further court hearing on 2.2 billion dollars of his frozen assets.

During his 75-minute video address, beamed via a giant screen on the rally's stage, he called for fresh elections but promised he would not stand himself.

The populist politicial still attracts widespread support among the rural poor, while the country's elite accuse him of graft and authoritarianism.

Abhisit's opponents accuse him of being a puppet of Thailand's powerful army, which led the ouster of Thaksin nearly three years ago following months of protests by the royalist People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD).

The current Democrat-led coalition formed an administration in December following a controversial court decision to dissolve the previous government.
 

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