Thailand's government urged former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to come out of hiding Thursday and face the terrorism charges that accuse him of fomenting the violent unrest that scarred the capital and exposed deep rifts in society.
Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 military coup but has wide support among the Red Shirt protesters whose rallies in the capital began peacefully in March but disintegrated into deadly street clashes with security forces.
Bangkok and 23 provinces remain under a nighttime curfew and a state of emergency after a military crackdown broke up the protests last week. The terrorism charges that are the basis for the arrest warrant carry a possible death penalty.
"It's best for Thaksin to return and fight it out in the court, which will deal with the case fairly," government spokesman Panithan Wattanayagorn said. "The government is just following the legal process."
Thaksin, who has been living in exile, told Australian Broadcasting Corp. by telephone from an undisclosed location late Wednesday that he had never supported violence. He called the terrorism charges groundless and said he did not believe Interpol, the Paris-based international police intelligence-sharing association, would act on the warrant.
"Interpol have their own criteria to judge, that is, to not be politically motivated," Thaksin said. "This is clearly politically motivated."
Interpol had no comment about the Thaksin warrant, except to say that any request by an Interpol member country to put a suspect on the police agency's most-wanted list must go through its legal department.
Interpol lawyers must determine whether a request is military, religious or political in nature, and if so they cannot issue it.
Thaksin is already on the run from a conflict of interest conviction that carries a two-year jail sentence, but efforts by Thai authorities to have him arrested and sent home have been unsuccessful. Thaksin, who has since obtained a Montenegrin passport, says that conviction was also motivated by politics.
The unrest in Thailand has opened a growing divide between Thaksin's supporters _ mostly the rural poor and urban underclass _ and those who back the conservative establishment, including many in the middle class who agreed with the 2006 military coup that ousted Thaksin.
Thaksin said he did not know if the Red Shirt unrest was finished.
"In my mind, I always advocate ... peaceful protest," he said. "Thailand needs reconciliation."
At least 88 people died in the protest-related violence and ensuing military crackdown, and rioting and arson destroyed or damaged landmarks such as the stock exchange, the country's largest shopping mall and other buildings.
Thaksin said the burning of dozens of buildings was a "set up" to discredit his supporters and was "well-planned" in advance. The arson occurred as protesters were fleeing troops last week.
"As an ex-police (officer), I can assure you that this is a well-planned and professionally done" act of arson, he said.
Thailand issued the arrest warrant after testimony by the Department of Special Investigations about Thaksin's alleged involvement in the protests. It alleged Thaksin committed, threatened to commit or supported terrorist acts, but details were not disclosed.
Panithan, the government spokesman, refused to respond to Thaksin's comments, saying the matter was in the hands of legal authorities. He said the terrorism charges would "clarify" to the international community Thailand's position on Thaksin.
"Mr. Thaksin can speak whatever is on his mind. We're not going to retort," he said. "As a defendant in the case, he can disagree. But if the case is favorable to him, then I doubt that he would be so vocal."
Organizers of a dinner debate in Paris next Monday said Thaksin is still scheduled to appear in the French capital. They say Thaksin will come unless an international warrant or notice is put out for him before then.
Associated Press writers Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Angela Charlton in Paris and Eric Talmadge in Bangkok contributed to this report.