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Thai PM pleads for end to protests

BANGKOK -- Her eyes welling with tears, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra pleaded on Tuesday for anti-government protesters to clear the streets after she called a snap election, but protests leaders said she should step down within 24 hours.

After weeks of sometimes violent street rallies, protesters dismissed her call on Monday for a general election and said she should be replaced by an unelected “people's council,” which has stoked concern that Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy may abandon the democratic process.

Yingluck insisted on Tuesday she would not step down and said she would continue her duties as caretaker prime minister until the election, which is set for Feb. 2.

“Now that the government has dissolved parliament, I ask that you stop protesting and that all sides work towards elections,” Yingluck told reporters as she went into a cabinet meeting held at an army club. “I have backed down to the point where I don't know how to back down any further.”

Tears briefly formed in her eyes as she spoke, before she quickly composed herself — perhaps a glimpse of the emotional toll of weeks of protests.

The protesters, a motley collection aligned with Bangkok's royalist elite, want to oust Yingluck and eradicate the influence of her brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled by the military in 2006 and has chosen to live in exile rather than serve a jail term for abuse of power.

Thaksin was convicted in absentia of graft in 2008 but he dismissed the charges as politically motivated. He is widely seen as the power behind Yingluck's government, sometimes holding meetings with the cabinet by webcam.

Yingluck, a 46-year-old former businesswoman, had no political experience before entering a 2011 election she won by a landslide thanks to votes from the countryside, where Thaksin built up a devoted following with policies to help the poor.

In a speech to supporters late on Monday, protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban gave Yingluck 24 hours to step down.

“We want the government to step aside and create a power vacuum in order to create a people's council,” said Akanat Promphan, a spokesman for the protesters. Suthep said the body would be made up of appointed “good people.”

By mid-afternoon on Tuesday, only 6,000 protesters were in the historic part of Bangkok around Government House where Yingluck's office is located, police said, a far cry from the 160,000 that converged peacefully on the complex on Monday.

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Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra gets emotional after speaking at a press conference, in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, Dec. 10. (AP)

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