Thai PM proposes referendum on her future as protesters prepare big push

By Khettiya Jittapong

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra proposed a referendum on her future on Sunday and promised to resign if that was what the people wanted, as anti-government protesters prepared for a final push to try to force her from power.

Protesters have been on the streets of the capital for weeks, clashing with police and vowing to oust Yingluck and eradicate the influence of her self-exiled brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The demonstrations are the latest eruption in nearly a decade of rivalry between forces aligned with the Bangkok-based establishment and those who support Thaksin, a former telecommunications tycoon who won huge support in the countryside with pro-poor policies.

Underscoring the divide, the pro-establishment Democrat Party said all of its members of the House of Representatives would give up their seats because they were unable work with Yingluck's ruling party.

The leader of the protesters, Suthep Thaugsuban, a former Democrat Party deputy prime minister, has called for a final demonstration on Monday to force Yingluck out.

Yingluck said in a televised statement her government was searching for ways to end the conflict.

"We should conduct a referendum so that people can decide what we should do," she said.

Suthep, aware that Yingluck would likely win an election if one were called, has been urging the setting up of a "people's council" of appointed "good people" to replace the government.

Yingluck has dismissed the idea as unconstitutional and undemocratic. She did not spell out the specifics of any referendum but said it was in line with the constitution.

"I'm willing to listen to proposals from the protesters. I'm not addicted to this title," she said. "I'm ready to resign and dissolve parliament if that is what the majority of the Thai people want."

Suthep has told his supporters they had to take back power from what he calls the illegitimate "Thaksin regime", but he told them they could not rely on the army to help.

The army, which ousted Thaksin in 2006, has said it does not want to get involved though it has tried to mediate.

Thaksin fled Thailand in 2008 to avoid a graft conviction but has remained closely involved with his sister's government. The protests were sparked last month by a government bid to introduce an amnesty that would have expunged his conviction.

"VERY BRUTAL"

Critics of the government say it is illegitimate because it is corrupt and buys votes though analysts say it has built real support. Thaksin's critics have also accused him of undermining the monarchy, which he has denied.

Thaksin had not commented on the protests but took to Facebook on the weekend to say he had been following the opposition rallies and rejected accusations of disloyalty to King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

"Thai politics is very brutal," Thaksin wrote on his Facebook page. "I have been hard done by, especially being accused of disloyalty to the monarchy."

"Whether people love me or hate me it is their right, but they should not be led by people who spread lies or ... say that I have ambitions to be president."

The protesters have missed successive deadlines for forcing Yingluck out and their numbers have been dwindling. Suthep said if they were not successful on Monday he would give up.

Adding to a sense of crisis, a spokesman for the opposition Democrats said all members were resigning from the lower house of parliament, where Yingluck's party has a comfortable majority, and would join Monday's march.

"We can't work with the government MPs," spokesman Nipit Intarasombat told the Nation Television. "This government has no legitimate power."

Without the Democrats, the 500-member lower house will have 347 members.

The government has not used excessive force against the protesters and Yingluck said on Saturday the police would act with restraint if people tried to occupy public buildings, including their main target, her Government House offices. There was no sign of any fortifications going up on Sunday.

Five people have been killed in clashes between activists and scores have been hurt, many by teargas the police have been firing to keep protesters out of government buildings. The protesters occupy the Finance Ministry and a government administrative complex.

(Additional reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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