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1,000 monks to pray for premier

BANGKOK, Thailand, June 12 -- Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra will join more than 1,000 Buddhist monks this week in an elaborate religious rite aimed at averting his conviction on wealth-concealment charges that could end his premiership, a report said Tuesday.

The ceremony at Wat Nong Waeng in Khon Kaen province, 230 miles northeast of Bangkok, will take place on Thursday, four days before the final statement is due to be delivered to the Constitutional Court in the case against Thaksin.

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The Nation newspaper quoted organizers of the religious rite as saying it would be presided over by 108 of northeastern Thailand's most senior and respected Buddhist monks and would include elements of Buddhism and Brahminism.

Thaksin will attend the rite after returning from an official trip to Laos on June 14.

Khon Kaen provincial Governor Sermsak Pongpanit said the religious ceremony, known as "Thaengkae," is meant to ward off ill fortune and call down blessings.

An abbot at the Nong Waeng temple, Phrarat Piriyatmethi, said the hour-long religious rite had been requested by the Khon Kaen Chamber of Commerce. It will cost between 500,000 and 1 million baht ($11,000-$22,000).

During the ceremony Thaksin will sit surrounded by nine images of the Buddha in different postures and 1,000 monks will chant blessings.

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The right is part of a multi-pronged campaign by Thaksin to avoid conviction by the Constitutional Court on charges by the Counter Corruption Commission that he illegally concealed his wealth while serving as deputy prime minister in 1997.

A verdict by the court is expected to be handed down in July. If convicted, Thaksin would have to step down as prime minister and would be banned from participating in politics for five years.

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