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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Toppled Thai leader arrives in Cambodia

By SOPHENG CHEANG, Associated Press Writer
PHNOM PENH,


The toppled leader was to deliver a lecture Thursday to more than 300 economists while in Phnom Penh.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Thaksin flew into the Cambodian capital's military airport aboard a private plane. State televison showed that Thaksin arrived with a party of less than 10 people and was driven into Phnom Penh under very tight security provided by bodyguards of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Thaksin's surprising appointment by Hun Sen has soured already poor relations between the two neighbors, which have had small but sometimes deadly skirmishes over their land border in the past year.

Thailand responded to the appointment by withdrawing its ambassador from Phnom Penh, and Cambodia retaliated in kind.

Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 military coup. He is living in exile, mostly in Dubai, to avoid a two-year prison sentence for corruption.

Despite his self-imposed exile he remains at the center of a political fight between his supporters and those of the current government. He ignited fresh controversy Monday by speaking candidly about the nation's constitutional monarchy.

Thaksin gave a rare extensive interview that was published by the Times of London on its Web site in which he spoke glowingly of the prospects for Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn once he succeeds his father, 81-year old King Bhumibol Adulyadej. But he criticized the king's close advisers for interfering with politics.

Open discussion of the succession issue is a delicate issue, in part because of strict laws that prohibit insulting the king and his family and make such criticism punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Thaksin went into exile last year ahead of a court judgment that found him guilty of violating a conflict of interest law and sentenced him to two years in jail. He served as prime minister from 2001 to 2006, when he was ousted by a military coup after being accused of corruption and showing disrespect to the monarchy.

Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, who was an anti-Thaksin activist before joining the government, said to reporters that Thaksin's interview remarks were offensive to the monarchy, and questioned his motive for making them.

Other officials in the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva also criticized Thaksin.

Thaksin's supporters and opponents have repeatedly taken to the streets since his ouster to spar over who has the right to rule the country, sometimes sparking violence.

On a Web page he maintains, Thaksin later said that The Times had distorted his comments, especially in its headline reading, "

In the Times interview, which included a transcript posted online, the former prime minister was laudatory about Vajiralongkorn, whom he described as "the newer generation, modern."

"He has a very strong determination to do what he really wants to achieve," said Thaksin.

He also offered repeated, almost fulsome praise of Bhumibol, but said the circle of people around him, particularly his main adviser, former Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda, had illegitimately interfered in politics.

Many people believe Prem engineered the coup against Thaksin, a charge Prem has denied.

The king has been in hospital for almost two months with a lung ailment.

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