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Deposed Thai PM begins public relations blitz after return from exile

Deposed Thai PM begins public relations blitz after return from exile

Deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra followed up his triumphant return from exile with a public relations blitz Friday featuring free clinics with English soccer players and a visit to Thailand's most senior Buddhist monk.
When Thaksin flew home Thursday after 17 months in exile, he brought along two players from his Manchester City soccer team, saying they could help improve the skills of Thai children and the national team.
Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and striker Kelvin Etuhu were scheduled to hold a clinic for children sponsored by Thaksin on Friday afternoon _ an event guaranteed to attract media attention in this soccer-mad nation.
The 58-year-old telecoms tycoon earlier visited the hospitalized head of the Thai Buddhist clergy, Supreme Patriarch Nyanasamvara Suvaddhana Mahathera, who is a revered figure in this predominantly Buddhist country. Visits to other monks were also planned.
Thaksin arrived at Chulalongkorn Hospital in a bulletproof car amid unusually high security. The ex-prime minister's safety is an apparent concern. He is staying at a Bangkok luxury hotel, chosen in part because it has a rooftop helipad in case he requires an emergency evacuation, the interior minister said Thursday.
Thaksin's homecoming was widely seen as a triumphant return to the center of Thai politics despite the military's efforts to eradicate his legacy since ousting him in a September 2006 coup.
The former leader received a hero's welcome from thousands of supporters when he landed at Bangkok's international airport.
Although Thaksin faces corruption charges and has promised to stay away from politics, critics fear his return is a calculated step toward regaining power.
"He's in the back seat but he is still driving the car," said Jon Ungpakorn, former senator and social and political activist.
Cabinet members from the People's Power Party, or PPP, which is considered a proxy for Thaksin, are expected to defer to the former leader, undermining the authority of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej.
Commentaries in several Bangkok newspapers Friday focused on Thaksin returning to rebuild his power base just as rifts are surfacing within the PPP and Samak, who was handpicked by Thaksin, now appears intent on consolidating power.
"Thaksin's behavior totally contradicts what he says. His behavior makes it clear that he came back to reclaim his power _ to show that he is the real leader," the Thai-language Thai Post said in an editorial.
Hours after Thaksin arrived from Hong Kong, the finance minister announced that the government would consult him for economic advice.
Opponents warn that a new political role for Thaksin could renew the deep tensions that provoked mass demonstrations before his ouster.
Thaksin's autocratic leanings and alleged corruption drew resentment from the Bangkok elite, the military and people associated with the monarchy. Those forces tried to erase Thaksin's political legacy, changing the constitution and opening criminal investigations against him.
But he retains widespread popularity among rural people and the urban poor, who benefited from his financial and social welfare policies.
Thaksin could face a total of up to 15 years in jail for two cases lodged against him after the bloodless coup. He has been charged with corruption and conflict of interest and failing to disclose his family's assets.
He was quickly granted bail in both cases, which will be heard over the next two months.
About US$2.1 billion (euro1.4 billion) in assets belonging to Thaksin and his family have been frozen until his name is cleared.
Some believe he will win acquittal, as he has in the past.
"The pressure he will put on the judiciary will be unbearable," said Kraisak Choonhavan, a member of Parliament with the opposition Democrat party. He noted that in 2001, Thaksin was cleared of charges that he failed to declare all his wealth as required of Thai politicians.
Thaksin, who is legally barred from politics for the next four years, insisted during a Thursday news conference he will devote his time to charity and sports development.
"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 said.


Updated : 2021-07-29 13:22 GMT+08:00