Thai PM Dissolves Parliament, Forcing New Elections

Thailand's embattled prime minister dissolved parliament Friday, forcing new elections as he seeks to deflect growing calls for his resignation over corruption allegations.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's decision means he must face an election battle just one year after winning a second term in a landslide victory. His announcement came two days before rally expected to draw thousands of his opponents.

"I have decided to dissolve the parliament," Thaksin told reporters after meeting with Thailand's king, who must endorse the decision and was expected to do so later Friday.

Elections must be held within 60 days of parliament's dissolution.

Thaksin's move comes after months of calls for his resignation from critics who accuse him of corruption and abuse of power. He has repeatedly refused to step down and had said he would dissolve parliament if the political situation deteriorated.

Thaksin's firm base among poor and rural voters would be expected to return him to office. But the opposition could win enough seats in 500-member lower house to mount a no-confidence motion against the prime minister.

The opposition campaign for Thaksin's resignation gained momentum last month when the prime minister's family sold its controlling interest in Shin Corp., a telecommunications conglomerate, to a Singaporean government company for $1.9 billion.

The deal drew outrage, mainly because it was structured to allow the sellers — Thaksin's children — to avoid paying any taxes, and placed important national assets in the hands of foreigners.

Up to 60,000 people demanding that Thaksin step down protested earlier this month in what appeared to be Thailand's biggest political protest since 1992, when demonstrations toppled a military-backed government.

Students, workers, teachers and middle class citizens were expected to attend Sunday's demonstration. Protest leaders said they would hold the rally even if Thaksin dissolved parliament.

"Dissolving the house and holding a fresh election is not a solution to the problem because Prime Minister Thaksin is the center of the problem," said Suriyasai Takasila, a spokesman for the People's Alliance for Democracy movement.

Defense Minister Thammarak Isarangura na Ayuthaya warned that "ill-intentioned people plan to cause trouble during the mass protest, which would lead to chaos."