Ousted Thai PM flees into exile again

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Thaksin Shinawatra, the ousted prime minister of Thailand, will not return again to his country, a pro-Thaksin MP has said, suggesting that the telecoms billionaire who was removed in an army coup in 2006 had flown into exile in London.

If true, Mr Thaksin's decision to flee rather than fight a string of corruption trials could mean the beginning of the end of the political turmoil that has dogged Thailand for the past three years. "If Thaksin really doesn't come back, the conflict in our country will lessen, which implies that our prolonged political trouble will come to an end soon," said Kavee Chukitkasem, head of research at the Bangkok brokerage Kasikorn Securities. "The markets should definitely rise tomorrow."

Mr Thaksin had been due to return to Thailand yesterday from the Olympic Games opening ceremony in Beijing with his wife, Potjaman, who was found guilty last month of tax fraud and sentenced to three years in jail. However, two airline industry sources said the couple did not get on the plane.

Pracha Prasobdee, a member of the pro-Thaksin party that won the election in December, told reporters at the airport: "He will not return to Thailand again."

Mr Pracha said he had been told by an aide that Mr Thaksin would make a statement "via the foreign media" from London around the same time that he and his wife were meant to report to the courts under bail granted in various graft cases against them. The couple had been due to appear at about 10am local time.

On Thursday, the stock market rose by 4 per cent as rumours intensified that the couple might skip bail to London, where at least one of their three adult children is studying.

Mr Thaksin was removed by the military on the grounds of "rampant corruption", but his popularity in the countryside ensured that a pro-Thaksin party won December's general election. The courts have since accepted a string of corruption cases against him and his inner circle.