Speaking after several days of street protests Thaksin Shinawatra said he was willing to accept a democratic way out of what has become Thailand's biggest political crisis in several years.
 
"The protesters are exerting mob rule over the rule of law, which I can't accept," Thaksin said.

However, he added: "I am happy to co-operate on anything, just tell me, as long as they are democratic ways."

The three opposition parties declared a boycott of a snap election called for 2 April, three years early. Thaksin said he called the election to resolve the crisis.

Coup assurances

His announcement followed assurances from senior military commanders that the security forces would not stage a coup as pressure mounted on him to resign.

Thaksin says he is willing to
discuss a democratic solution

The anti-Thaksin campaign ignited last month when the $1.9 billion tax-free sale by his relatives of their stake in the telecommunications empire he founded sparked outrage among Bangkok's middle classes.

After a month of growing anger and street protests over the corruption allegations, Thaksin dissolved the lower house of parliament last Friday, forcing elections three years ahead of schedule.

But his decision to dissolve the house failed to appease his critics. Thousands gathered in Bangkok on Monday for a second night of anti-Thaksin protests following a rally on Sunday which drew more than 50,000 people demanding the premier's removal.

Two ministers said Thaksin was willing to postpone the election if that was proposed by the opposition.

Opposition deadline

Unswayed by Thaksin's hints of a compromise, opposition leaders on Tuesday repeated their demands that he quit, giving him a deadline of five days or face the biggest rally yet.

"We give Thaksin five days to collect his belongings, five days to resign"

Sondhi Limthongkul,
opposition figure

"We give Thaksin five days to collect his belongings, five days to resign," said Sondhi Limthongkul, the premier's fiercest public critic and a key figure in the movement against him.

Opposition leaders have said a fair election is impossible without political reforms as political institutions designed to be independent were under Thaksin's control.
 
A rally in Bangkok last Sunday attracted the biggest anti-government crowd in 14 years, peaking at 50,000.

Ongoing protests

Monday night's gathering drew half that number and the original People's Alliance for Democracy's (PAD) plan was to keep the protests going until Thaksin resigned.

Security forces have said they
will remain neutral

But the core of the round-the-clock protest, the monks and nuns of the Dharma Army (Army of Buddha's Teachings), left the rally ground on Tuesday. They were to return on Sunday.

Their leader is Chamlong Srimuang, an ascetic 70-year-old general who led a successful but bloody 1992 "people power" uprising against a military-led government.

His presence has fuelled fears of violence, although there has been no sign of any so far and Chamlong says his followers will not start anything.
 
But mass marches in Bangkok carry the risk of violence and street violence brings the risk of a coup in a country with a long and relatively recent history of military intervention.