Thaksin may return under royal amnesty

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The Independent Online

The fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra may return to Thailand under an amnesty being discussed by the country's cabinet.

The Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who is Mr Thaksin's younger sister, is drawing up the terms of the amnesty which is granted each year on 5 December, the birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Those receiving pardons must be at least 60 years old and sentenced to less than three years in prison.

Mr Thaksin, 62, lives in exile in Dubai and had been sentenced to two years for corruption. He was ousted in a coup in 2006 and fled Thailand in 2008. His rivals formed a government but they lost elections earlier this year that brought Ms Yingluck to power in a landslide victory. She is widely seen as a proxy for Mr Thaksin, who remains extremely popular among the rural poor.

He is an extremely divisive figure in Thai politics, and any pardon for him is likely to inflame divisions between his supporters and opponents. Two months of protests in the capital Bangkok last year by pro-Thaksin "Red Shirt" demonstrators deteriorated into violence, leaving at least 91 people dead and 1,400 wounded. Mr Thaksin's return would infuriate his foes in the Bangkok-based elites in the military, palace and bureaucracy.

Opponents accuse Mr Thaksin, a telecommunications tycoon, of illegally amassing great wealth during nearly six years in power. But his supporters say his corruption conviction was the result of a political vendetta.