Fugitive Thaksin continues global wanderings

Ousted Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is seen ...
Mon Mar 29, 12:40 PM ET
Ousted Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is seen on a projector as he addresses his supporters who stage an anti-government demonstration Monday, March 29, 2010 in Bangkok, Thailand. Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva offered Monday to dissolve parliament by the end of the year, but protesters, demanding he step down, did not immediately accept the compromise, which could have helped resolve the country's political crisis.
BANGKOK – From Dubai to Sweden and now Russia: It's been a busy travel week for Thailand's fugitive former leader Thaksin Shinawatra.
As thousands of his rural supporters camp out in Bangkok, pressing the government to call fresh elections, the 60-year-old tycoon is trotting the globe in search of business ventures — and rallying Red Shirt protesters from afar by video link.
"I am on a business trip in Russia," Thaksin told supporters Tuesday night, adding that he was meeting with a businessman "who is sitting on a big pile of cash. He is interested in investing in Asia. So when I return to Thailand, I could bring him along with me." His remarks were carried by several Thai newspapers Wednesday.
Thaksin was removed from office by a 2006 coup while abroad, returning briefly in 2008 only to flee ahead of a conviction on a conflict of interest charge.
Yet the two-time premier remains at the center of Thailand's political crisis.
He has orchestrated, and to some extent funded, the Red Shirt protesters who are demanding that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva call fresh elections. The protesters have been camped in a historic district of the Thai capital since March 12 and are planning another mass march this Saturday. Earlier marches have snarled traffic and drawn upward of 100,000 people.
While Thaksin continues to stir up the demonstrators, he is apparently no longer welcome to do so from his longtime base of Dubai, Thai officials said.
"We are told that Dubai will not let him conduct political activities there," said Chavanont Intarakomalyasut, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, adding that Thaksin has not been kicked out of the United Arab Emirates. "To stay there — to live there — is another story."
Thailand has revoked his passport and wants him extradited to serve his two-year jail term arising from his 2008 conviction. Britain, Germany and other countries have barred Thaksin, but there are no shortage of others willing to accept his investment offers and hand over new passports, including Nicaragua and Montenegro, where he visited earlier this month.
Thaksin also stays in touch with supporters through Twitter and Facebook, bemoaning his fate and exhorting them to keep up the fight. Photo posts have shown him golfing in Brunei and Dubai, inspecting diamond mines in South Africa, sipping coffee in a private jet and meeting prime ministers or presidents on trips to Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea and the Maldives.
The Thai Foreign Ministry said it was trying to confirm Thaksin's presence in Russia but knew he left Sweden on Monday.
"I wasn't kicked out of Sweden," Thaksin said in his video statement, wearing a red jacket. "I am still free. And my brain is functioning well. I would like to use that to our country's benefit."
The Swedish Embassy in Thailand confirmed that Thaksin had briefly visited the Scandinavian country, arriving Saturday — when more than 60,000 of his supporters marched in Bangkok.
"We did not ask him to come, and we did not ask him to leave," said Karlo Laakso, the embassy's deputy head of mission, adding that Thaksin had traveled on a passport that did not require a Swedish visa. "He's resourceful."
Associated Press writer Kinan Suchaovanich contributed to this report.

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