Thai leader warns he could declare emergency because of protesters

Thailand's prime minister vowed Tuesday to declare an emergency if anti-government protesters in the capital turned violent, as tens of thousands massed near his office demanding he resign over corruption allegations.

Prime MinisterThaksin Shinawatra was in northeastern Thailand on a campaign stop as the protesters marched on his office at Government House in Bangkok, pledging to continue peaceful protests until he steps down.

"I am ready to sign the decree if the situation becomes violent," Thaksin told reporters before entering a Cabinet meeting via teleconference from the city of Ubon. He said a decree declaring a state of emergency was "in his hands" but that it was not necessary to use it at the moment.

The marchers made their way from Bangkok's Grand Palace down a broad boulevard toward Government House, a couple of kilometers (miles) away, carrying placards reading "Change Through Peace" and "No Violence."

"Thaksin, Get Out!" they shouted, some of them tearing down pro-government banners near the compound.

Cabinet members meeting inside the ornate seat of government approved a 5 percent pay hike for employees of state enterprises, some of whom have joined the anti-Thaksin drive.

"I'm one of the 19 million people who voted for the wrong person. I have to correct what I did wrong," said Ratanaporn Rattanawongsarot, a 39-year-old housewife among the marchers. "I can't stand Thaksin cheating the country."

The crowd appeared to number about 100,000, according to an Associated Press reporter, but an accurate estimate was difficult. Metropolitan police spokesman Col. Pinit Maneerat gave the number as 30,000 to 40,000, while organizers said more than 200,000 were taking part.

Tens of thousands of protesters have demanded Thaksin's resignation in regular weekend rallies, accusing the tycoon-turned-politician of corruption, mishandling a Muslim insurgency in southern Thailand, stifling the media and allowing cronies to reap gains from state policies.

Protesters have come mainly from the urban middle class in Bangkok, while Thaksin still enjoys strong support from the rural majority, who have benefited from his populist polices and re-elected his party in a landslide last year.

However, Tuesday's rally drew a broader mix of Thai society. Labor unions representing state-owned utilities and rail workers have called on employees to protest Thaksin's privatization plans, reports the AP.