Sunday, November 9, 2008

Thai papers say Thaksin flying to Manila

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:22:00 11/09/2008

MANILA, Philippines—Immigration and foreign affairs officials were incredulous when asked about reports that ousted Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, desperate to find a refuge after Britain revoked his visa, was arriving in the Philippines on Saturday to ask for asylum.

Authorities said they received neither official communication nor feelers that Thaksin would be flying to Manila this weekend after the British government revoked his visa and that of his wife.

Thaksin, ousted in a 2006 coup, fled to Britain in early August after his wife was convicted on tax evasion charges, saying he would not receive a fair trial in Thailand.

He has since been sentenced in absentia to two years in prison for conflict of interest after helping his wife buy state-owned land when he was prime minister. Four other corruption cases are outstanding against him.

His exact whereabouts yesterday were unknown, but Bangkok media reported that he was travelling from China to the Philippines.

Vacationing in RP

Bangkok’s The Nation newspaper yesterday quoted a member of parliament as saying that a number of MPs from Thaksin’s stronghold in Thailand’s northeast would be going on vacation in the Philippines this weekend and may be meeting with the ousted leader.

Thaksin reportedly made arrangements for the meeting by telephone.

Claro Cristobal, spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs, laughed off the story as just a “rumor.”

The only Thai official coming to Manila, he said, was Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, who he said would be “arriving on Monday for an official visit.”

He said people may have confused the two Thais.

Somchai’s visit this week would make it “highly unlikely” for Thaksin to come to Manila, he said.

Furthermore, the Philippines would be an unwise choice for asylum as the country is a neighbor and ally of Thailand, Cristobal said.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said he had no knowledge about any planned arrival of Thaksin or any Thai official in Manila.

He said no arrangements had been made for any meeting with the President.

“How can they come here when the President is leaving on Monday?” Ermita said.

President Macapagal-Arroyo is leaving for the US to attend the United Nations Interfaith Dialogue in New York and to visit with the Filipino community in Chicago.

Ermita later modified his stance, saying that he had been informed by the DFA about the visit of the Thai prime minister who he said was coming “to introduce himself to the President.”

Somchai, a brother-in-law of Thaksin, was nominated by Thailand’s governing party, the People Power Party, to be the next prime minister last September after a court forced his predecessor, Samak Sanaravej, to step down.

Proxy gov’t

The appointment of Somchai, who is married to a sister of Thaksin, angered antigovernment protesters who accuse the current government of running the country on Thaksin’s behalf and of wanting to pave the way for his return.

Thaksin, a telecommunications tycoon who is still very popular among Thailand’s majority rural poor, remains a power behind the PPP. He is said to have been in touch with party members by telephone while they chose a replacement for Samak.

Anti-Thaksin protesters, led by a group called the People’s Alliance for Democracy, have occupied the grounds of the Prime Minister’s Office in Bangkok since August.

The group, whose protests preceded the 2006 coup, descended on the British embassy on Oct. 30 to demand that Britain extradite the former premier, a week after a senior Thai prosecutor admitted the chances of doing so were “slim.”

But the director of the attorney general’s international affairs department told Agence France-Presse (AFP) he hoped to begin the legal process by the start of next year.

On Nov. 1, in what has now come to be a controversial phone call, Thaksin addressed his supporters in Thailand, denouncing his opponents to 90,000 loyal supporters packed into a Bangkok sports stadium.


Speaking from an undisclosed location, Thaksin thanked the crowd but told them he could not return to the kingdom from exile without a royal pardon. He also reportedly asked for a popular show of force to bring him back to Thailand.

The call triggered a major controversy as Thaksin was accused of trying to drag the King into politics. The Law Society of Thailand said Thaksin had acted in contempt of the country’s revered monarch, King Bhumiphol, during his phone-in.

But police authorities earlier this week concluded that the speech contained no message that could be regarded as lese majeste (injured majesty), a criminal offense that carries a penalty of three to 15 years in prison.

The AFP quoted a Bangkok airline official on Saturday as saying that British authorities had revoked the visas of Thaksin and his wife.

The airline official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the British embassy had informed all airlines in an e-mail on Friday not to allow the couple to board flights to Britain.

Embassy officials in Bangkok refused to confirm or deny the report, but in the e-mail seen by AFP, Bangkok-based immigration liaison manager Andy Gray, from the UK Border Agency wrote: “The United Kingdom Border Agency has revoked the UK visas held by the following Thai nationals: Thaksin Shinawatra … Potjaman Shinawatra,” listing the pair’s passport numbers.

“The UK visas contained in the passports of the individuals listed above are no longer valid for travel. Airlines are advised not to carry these passengers to the UK,” the e-mail said.

Thaksin’s Thailand-based spokesperson said he could not confirm the report.

“What I can verify is that Thaksin has not received any document from the British authorities concerning this issue … But if it’s true, Thaksin can clarify the matter,” said Phonthep Thepkanjana.

Ferdinand Sampol, the immigration supervisor at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, said he had no information about Thaksin’s arrival in Manila, or whether he will be here on transit or to seek asylum.

And if Thaksin should land here, Sampol said immigration authorities cannot hold him unless some irregularity is found in his travel papers. Thaksin is also not on the country’s blacklist, he said.

He noted that asylum cases are referred to the justice department. Reports from Kristine L. Alave, TJ Burgonio and AFP


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Thaksin, who fled Thailand in August to escape several charges including corruption, was sentenced in absentia by a Thai court in October to two years in prison.
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