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Thai rally toasts Thaksin's exit

Opponents gather in Bangkok after PM agrees to step down

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BANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) -- Opponents of Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra have gathered for a rally to celebrate his departure from office and, more importantly, to remind the nation of his pledge not to seek the post again.

Friday's demonstration near the Grand Palace in central Bangkok was sponsored by the People's Alliance for Democracy, which has staged several protests in the last few months.

Hundreds of people were expected to participate, said Sondhi Limthongkul, one of the organizers.

On Wednesday, Thaksin turned his duties over to Deputy Prime Minister Chidchai Wannasathit, who is to serve as a caretaker until a new leader is chosen.

Thaksin had said he would step aside if his party received less than 50 percent of the vote in the April 2 election, which was boycotted by all three opposition parties.

Parliamentary elections for 400 seats are scheduled for April 23. All the seats in parliament must be filled for a new government to be formed.

Chidchai will remain as temporary leader until a new parliament convenes, but there are concerns that Thaksin will continue to direct policy from behind the scenes.

Thaksin had called the election three years early, after opponents accused the billionaire leader of abusing the country's system of checks and balances and bending government policy to benefit his family's business.

Anti-government protests grew when his family announced it had sold its controlling stake in telecom company Shin Corp. to Singapore's state-owned Temasek Holdings for a tax-free $1.9 billion.

Friday's rally had been planned before the April 2 elections as a protest against Thaksin. But it has evolved into a celebration for ousting the embattled prime minister.

CNN Bangkok Correspondent Ram Ramgopal contributed to this report

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