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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Thais protest outside Cambodia embassy over invite

By AMBIKA AHUJA,Associated Press Writer

BANGKOK – Dozens of demonstrators gathered Tuesday outside Cambodia's embassy in Bangkok to protest an offer of refuge from that country's leader to Thailand's ousted and fugitive prime minister.

About 80 people gathered a week after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen called former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra a "political victim."

Relations between the countries are already strained by a dispute over border territory near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, which has led to small but deadly military skirmishes over the past year and a half.

Thaksin was ousted by a 2006 military coup on accusations of corruption and later sentenced to two years in prison for violating a conflict of interest law.

Hun Sen said he was welcome anytime in Cambodia and could become his economic adviser.

Thaksin left Thailand before his conviction last year. Though he is probably the country's most popular politician, the Thai government has said it would request his extradition if he went to Cambodia, and Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Hun Sen was "seriously misinformed" in saying Thaksin was being politically persecuted.

Abhisit played down speculation that the issue will further hurt ties between the two countries.

"Right now, Cambodia understands our feelings," Abhisit told reporters Tuesday.

A statement by Tuesday's protesters said, "We would like to condemn Hun Sen for his atrocious action which is in contempt of Thailand, the Thai government, the Thai army and the Thai people."

The group, the "People's Assembly of Thailand," appears to be affiliated with the People's Alliance for Democracy, which in 2006 campaigned for Thaksin's ouster. The alliance denies any connection, though the People's Assembly is led by one of its top leaders.

Thailand has revoked Thaksin's passport, and much of his fortune remains frozen in Thai banks. He has been barred from several countries following diplomatic pressure.

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