October 22, 2008 / 7:57 AM / 11 years ago

Thaksin case emboldens "vindicated" Thai protesters

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A jail sentence imposed on former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra for graft will add vigor to the street campaign trying to topple the present government led by his supporters, a protest leader said on Wednesday.

Supporters of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) cerebrate and hold a banner at the Government House in Bangkok on October 21, 2008. REUTERS/Kerek Wongsa

The People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), whose supporters have occupied the prime minister’s official compound since August, said the verdict vindicated their long-running campaign against Thaksin and what they call his puppet regime.

“The verdict meant our campaign against Thaksin was right all along, which will bring more people to join our campaign now to bring him back home to serve his sentence,” PAD leader Suriyasai Katasila told Reuters.

The Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that Thaksin, who is living in exile in Britain, had violated a conflict-of-interest law while in office and sentenced him to two years in prison.

Thaksin, who remains hugely popular in the countryside due to his populist policies during five years in office, said on Wednesday his legal team was considering an appeal against the verdict, but he insisted he would not return to Thailand.

“The legal team is studying both legal angles and political circumstances before deciding on an appeal as this is a politically motivated case,” he told Reuters by telephone from Britain.

Thaksin, who said he flew regularly in and out of London and had a visitor’s visa, repeated he would not seek asylum but also said he would not return to Thailand to plead his innocence.

“The verdict meant they don’t want me in the country. They want me out for good,” Thaksin said, adding he would call in from abroad to talk to supporters at a Bangkok rally on November 1.

BOOS AND JEERS

A series of graft charges against Thaksin were initiated by a panel set up after the military coup that ousted him in 2006.

An elected government returned to power in early 2008. It is already on its second prime minister, Thaksin’s brother-in-law Somchai Wongsawat.

Somchai was booed and jeered by around 500 state employees during a visit to the telecommunications ministry on Wednesday.

“Somchai, murderer! Somchai, get out!” the demonstrators shouted, blaming him for violent clashes between anti-government protesters and police outside parliament on October 7, when two people were killed and hundreds injured.

Somchai, who took over from Samak Sundaravej last month after Samak, too, was found guilty of a conflict of interest, has come under pressure from the PAD and military chiefs to accept responsibility and quit.

He had to be escorted by 10 police officers to get past the crowd at the ministry and into a car as shoes and bottles were thrown at him, a Reuters reporter at the scene said.

Suriyasai said the PAD, led by royalists, business people and academics, would continue their occupation of Government House to press Somchai to work for Thaksin’s extradition.

“What we have to do now is to adjust our campaign tactics to avoid violence, otherwise it will give Thaksin an excuse for

political asylum in Britain,” Suriyasai said.

The verdict has done nothing to narrow the political divide in Thailand and there is no consensus on what happens next.

“The army chief was calling on Somchai to quit on TV, but what they have struck behind the scenes might have been a house dissolution and a snap election,” political commentator Sukhum Nualskul said. “I think that is the best option for all sides.”

Analysts said Somchai’s People Power Party was likely to win any election and lead a new coalition government.

That course of events might give the government breathing space to pursue the drafting of a new constitution to replace the one brought in by the military government, but preventing that was one of the reasons the PAD took to the streets in May.

Additional reporting by Pracha Hariraksapitak and Chalathip Thirasoonthrakul; Editing by Alan Raybould and Alex Richardson

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