Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Thaksin royal comments fuel Thai-Cambodia furore

Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej in a wheelchair during an appearance at a hospital in Bangkok last month. Thailand has accused ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra of offending the country's monarchy, stepping up pressure on the fugitive tycoon as he prepares for a provocative trip to neighbouring Cambodia. (AFP/File/Str)

by Boonradom Chitradon Boonradom Chitradon

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

BANGKOK (AFP) – Thailand on Monday accused ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra of offending the country's monarchy, stepping up pressure on the fugitive tycoon as he prepares for a provocative trip to neighbouring Cambodia.

The Thai government also said it was preparing a formal extradition request for Thaksin, who was toppled in a 2006 coup, when he visits Phnom Penh this week in his new capacity as economics adviser to the Cambodian leadership.

The row over Thaksin's appointment last week prompted Cambodia and Thailand to recall their respective ambassadors, deepening tensions after a series of deadly skirmishes on their border in the past year and a half.

Billionaire Thaksin was quoted by British daily The Times on Monday as calling for the reform of institutions around Thailand's revered monarchy, headed by 81-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

"Thailand needs to have a monarchy but it should not be abused or played by the palace circles," Thaksin reportedly said. "I can assure you His Majesty is above (politics), but those in the circle have a network."

When Thaksin, who is living abroad to avoid a two-year jail term for corruption, was asked if the "royal institution" needed reform, he said: "Yes, yes."

Thaksin later said in a statement that the article had misrepresented his words and had a misleading headline, adding: "The untrue report caused a misunderstanding among readers and Thais."

But Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya -- who has links to a royalist group that besieged Bangkok's airports last year to bring down the previous pro-Thaksin government -- hit out at Thaksin's comments.

Insulting or defaming the royal family is punishable by up to 15 years in jail in Thailand.

"I would like to say that Thaksin's interview violates the monarchy, which is the country's main institution. I wonder what the hidden agenda was that caused him to make this inappropriate move," Kasit told reporters.

"In his interview, there are several parts referring to his majesty the king, the crown prince and the monarchy and also refer to his majesty's role in politics," Kasit said.

Kasit said that the government would also seek the extradition of Thaksin when he goes to Cambodia.

Thaksin is due to give a lecture to Cambodian economics experts on Thursday but has not said exactly when he will arrive.

"We have prepared, the foreign ministry will contact the attorney general to seek extradition when he arrives in Cambodia," Kasit said, reiterating the government's pledge last week to get Thaksin to face justice.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, a close friend of Thaksin, has said he will reject any extradition request and that the former Thai leader's conviction in absentia for abuse of power last year was politically motivated.

Thaksin's visit threatens to take the shine off a summit of Southeast Asian leaders with US President Barack Obama that Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is due to chair on Sunday in Singapore.

His presence on Thailand's doorstep -- the closest he has come since he last fled in August 2008 -- is also likely to alarm Abhisit's shaky coalition government as it approaches the end of its first year in power.

The colourful Thaksin, formerly the owner of Manchester City football club, has stirred up mass anti-government protests by his so-called "Red Shirt" supporters that have at times turned violent.

The protesters have also targeted the house of the king's main adviser, former general Prem Tinsulanonda, and accused Prem of orchestrating the coup against their twice-elected idol.

Thailand remains bitterly divided between Thaksin's main support base among the poor, especially in rural areas, and his foes in the Bangkok-based elite power circles of the palace, military and bureaucracy.


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