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100,000 march in Bangkok

Thailand's prime minister announced Monday she will dissolve the lower house of Parliament and call elections in an attempt to calm the country's deepening political crisis. The surprise move came as 100,000 protesters vowing to overthrow her government marched through the streets of Bangkok for a "final showdown."

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's appeared emotional and her voice shook as she spoke in a nationally televised address Monday morning.

"After listening to opinions from all sides, I have decided to request a royal decree to dissolve Parliament," Yingluck said, breaking into regular programing. "There will be new elections according to the democratic system."

She said the Election Commission would set a date "as soon as possible."

It was unclear whether the move would ease the country's political standoff, which deepened Sunday after the main opposition party resigned from the legislature en masse. Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has repeatedly said that calling fresh elections would not be enough to end the conflict, and he made no immediate comment on Yingluck's announcement.

Police estimated that about 100,000 protesters were out on the streets of the Thai capital.

Thailand has been plagued by political turmoil since the army toppled Yingluck's brother Thaksin in a 2006 coup. In broad terms, the conflict pits the Thai elite and the educated middle-class against Thaksin's power base in the countryside, which benefited from populist policies designed to win over the rural poor.

"We will rise up. We will walk on every street in the country. We will not be going home again," Suthep said Sunday. His supporters have occupied the Finance Ministry and part of a vast government complex for more than a week. "The people who will be going home empty-handed are those in the Thaksin regime."

Many feared the day could end violently when demonstrators converge from nine locations on Yingluck's office at Government House. More than 60 Thai and international schools in Bangkok have closed as a precaution.

As Yingluck spoke, long columns of protesters paralyzed traffic on major Bangkok boulevards. They filled a major four-lane road in the city's central business district, waving flags, blowing whistles and holding a huge banner that said, "Get Out Shinawatra."

Since the latest unrest began last month, at least five people have been killed and at least 289 injured. Violence ended suddenly last week as both sides paused to celebrate the birthday of the nation's revered king, who turned 86 Thursday.

The crisis boiled over after Yingluck's ruling party tried to ram a controversial amnesty bill through the legislature. Critics say it was designed mainly to bring back Thaksin, who lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai to avoid jail time for a corruption conviction he says was politically motivated.l

The Canadian Press


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