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Thai PM Hands Power to Deputy Hours After Resigning

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has handed over his duties to a deputy, Chitchai Wannasathit - hours after announcing his resignation in the face of continued political opposition. The move comes despite Mr. Thaksin's party winning Sunday's parliamentary elections.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra announced to supporters at his party headquarters Wednesday that Deputy Prime Minister Chitchai Wannasathit had been named caretaker prime minister.

Mr. Thaksin called for reconciliation among all Thais and pledged his Thai ak Thai party will continue to work for the people.

The move comes hours after the Thai leader agreed to step down in the interests of national unity.

The opposition is cautiously welcoming the resignation.

A leader of the Democrat Party and former foreign minister, Surin Pitsuan, says Mr. Thaksin is still head of the ruling party which, because of a boycott by the opposition, won most of the seats in Sunday's snap elections.

"The political ills before the crisis - whether it's corruption, abuse of power and conflict of interests - all these things have absolutely no guarantee that they will improve," he said.

Meanwhile protesters say they will end months of anti-government rallies for now. Sondhi Limthongkul is one of the main protest organizers.

But he says if Mr. Thaksin continues as head of the ruling party, the demonstrations will resume by the end of the month.

Mr. Thaksin resigned two days after the elections showed a third of voters cast protest abstention ballots against him.

Many ruling party candidates, who were running unopposed, were outpolled by abstention ballots in many districts, particularly in Bangkok and Southern Thailand.

Political science Professor Panitan Wattanayagorn says the elections have only undermined the legitimacy of the Thaksin government.

"The MPs that were running under his party were largely running in uncontested areas," he said. "Number two, his legitimacy in the urban centers, in the very key places including Bangkok, are much reduced."

The author of several books on the Thaksin political era, Pasuk Phongpaichit, says Mr. Thaksin's announcement has eased political tensions.

"The political heat has cooled down quite a lot. And I think from now on it's possible for some negotiation for an acceptable process of constitutional reform," she said.

But political uncertainty remains in terms of the new parliament, which cannot convene until all its seats are filled. Because of the opposition boycott, 39 seats remain vacant and will require new elections in two weeks (April 23). The opposition Wednesday said it would boycott the by-elections as well.