Fri, Feb 29, 2008 - Page 1 News List

Thaksin makes triumphant return home


Deposed Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra returned from 17 months in exile yesterday to face corruption charges, receiving a hero's welcome from supporters and vowing to restore his reputation following his ouster in a coup.

Police briefly took the 58-year-old billionaire into custody after he arrived at Bangkok's international airport on a Thai Airways flight from Hong Kong, and brought him before a top court where he was immediately released on bail.

While he could face up to 15 years behind prison bars, Thaksin's return was a triumphant re-entry to the center stage of Thai politics despite efforts by the country's most powerful institutions, including the military, to eradicate his legacy and keep him at bay.

"The case of Thaksin is very unique in Thailand's political history. He is the first to have been toppled by a coup and come back in full glory. Those who toppled him became a joke," said Charnvit Kasetsiri, a historian from Bangkok's Thammasat University.

Thaksin has pledged to stay out of politics, but his critics don't believe him and say he already has been exerting influence from behind the scenes.

"Thaksin's real intention is not merely to fight charges in court. We believe he returned to restore his power," said Suriyasai Katasila of the People's Alliance for Democracy, whose protests against Thaksin culminated in the Sept. 19, 2006, coup toppling him.

Finance Minister Surapong Suebwonglee said that the government would consult him for economic advice.

"I don't want to be involved in politics any longer. I want to live peacefully with my family and die in this motherland," Thaksin told a news conference at the riverside Peninsula Hotel, where he was flanked by family members.

On the plane flight from Bangkok he told reporters that his main interest now was running Manchester City football club.

Thaksin had tears in his eyes as emerged from the airport's VIP room, where thousands of supporters erupted in cheers, waving signs saying "We love Thaksin!"

He knelt and touched the ground with his forehead, his palms pressed together in the Thai gesture of respect.

Police escorted Thaksin to the Supreme Court where he and his wife Pojaman face corruption and conflict of interest charges in connection with her purchase of a piece of Bangkok real estate in 2003.

The charges against him were read and then he was released on 8 million baht (US$267,000) bail. The court set a trial date of March 12.

He then proceeded to the Attorney General's Office where he was freed on 1 million baht bail in a second case in which he and his wife are accused of concealing ownership of shares.

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