Beleaguered former Thai premier seeking political asylum: Reports

August 9th, 2008 - 1:51 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Thai Airways
DPA
Bangkok, Aug 9 (DPA) Thailand’s first major outcome from the Beijing Olympics is expected this weekend when it will be clear whether the kingdom will lose former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his wife to self-exile, media reports said Saturday. Thaksin, whose 2001-2006 premiership was terminated by a coup, was granted court permission to fly to Beijing to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games Friday. But he must return by Monday to stand trial in an abuse-of-power case.

His wife Pojaman was also allowed to visit Beijing although the Bangkok Criminal Court July 31 sentenced her to three years in jail on a tax evasion charge.

Speculation was rife in Bangkok that the former first couple will use their Olympic pass to seek asylum abroad.

Arisman Pongruengrong, a political ally to Thaksin, tried to squash the rumours Friday when he revealed to the Thai press that Thaksin and Pojaman had booked return tickets on Thai Airways International flight TG 615 departing Beijing Sunday at 5 p.m.

But another Thaksin ally, current Finance Minister Surapong Suebwonglee, said the outcome of the Olympic dash was still uncertain, citing sources close to the Shinawatra family.

“Some denied the rumours, others confirmed it,” Surapong told the Bangkok Post.

Thaksin was in self-exile, mostly in London, for more than a year after the coup and only returned to Thailand in February, this year, to face several corruption charges.

A former policeman who became a billionaire telecommunications’ tycoon, Thaksin came to power on a populist platform in 2001. He was ousted by a military coup on Sept 19, 2006, on charges of corruption, dividing the nation and undermining democracy and the monarchy.

Thaksin remains one of Thailand’s most popular, and controversial, political figures.

While populist policies won Thaksin the devotion among Thailand’s masses of rural and urban poor, evidence of corruption and self-serving policies during his increasingly monopolistic rule turned the Bangkok-based middle class and political elite against him in early 2006, ushering in his downfall at the hands of the army.
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