Ousted premier makes 'private' London visit

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The Independent Online

The evening before, he had been Prime Minister of his country and about to address the United Nations in New York. Last night, Thaksin Shinawatra, arrived in London amid official confusion over his new status as "a private citizen".

Despite the Thai embassy and the Foreign Office stressing that Mr Shinawatra was now a private citizen on a personal visit, he was accorded a VIP welcome and police escort when he arrived at Gatwick.

As he left his chartered Thai Airlines Airbus from New York, the billionaire former leader placed his hands together as if in the traditional Thai greeting. Surrounded by an entourage, he waved to onlookers, got into a black Mercedes with the registration number THAI 1 and was driven to the VIP reception suite, normally used by the Royal Family and visiting dignatories.

The reception was organised by the Thai embassy but indicated a certain confusion. Earlier, a spokesman had said Mr Shinawatra was on a "private visit" with which it had no involvement.

Last night, he was believed to be staying with members of his family at a flat he owns in Chelsea. His eldest daughter has been studying in London and his wife is believed to have been on a visit to Paris.

A London School of Economics spokeswoman said Pintongta Shinawatra, who is in her 20s, began a one-year master's programme in October 2005 but asked to interrupt her studies during the year. The whereabouts of the other two children are unknown.

The Foreign Office stressed that Mr Shinawatra is in the country on a normal visa but that details were confidential.