Thai court orders Thaksin arrested on terrorism charges

A Thai court issues orders to arrest former premier Thaksin Shinawatra on terrorism charges in connection with recent riots.

A Thai soldier walks by a poster of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra left behind by anti-government protesters Friday, May 21, 2010, in Bangkok, Thailand.
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BANGKOK // A Thai court issued orders on today to arrest former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on terrorism charges in connection with riots over the past two months that were the worst in the country's modern history. Armed with the arrest warrant, Thai prosecutors and the Foreign Ministry will launch a global hunt for the fugitive telecoms tycoon, a top government official said. Mr Thaksin was last believed to be in France for the Cannes film festival, but he keeps his location secret. "The court said there was enough evidence to believe that Thaksin was the mastermind, having played a significant role in instructing and manipulating the incidents," Department of Special Investigations chief Tharit Pengdit told Reuters, referring to the riots.

Government officials say Mr Thaksin funded the 10-week, anti-government protests to the tune of about $1.5 million a day and is believed to have organised the smuggling of arms and fighters from Cambodia. If he is convicted of terrorism, he can be sentenced to death. The red shirt protesters have demanded that prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva quit and call new elections, saying they have been disenfranchised by a Bangkok elite supported by the military. They mostly support Mr Thaksin, who was prime minister until 2006 when he was ousted in a coup.

Mr Thaksin, through his lawyer, denied the terrorism charges. "Today, the mask is off the junta in Thailand," London-based lawyer Robert Amsterdam said in a statement on behalf of Thaksin. "Lacking legitimacy and fearing being held to account for the brutal murder of their countrymen, the military-backed Abhisit regime has perverted justice through the laying of a charge that violates logic, law and any claim of hopes for reconciliation."

At least 85 people were killed in Bangkok and more than 1,400 wounded in violence that began in April. The violence peaked last week when almost 40 buildings were set on fire as the army dispersed thousands of anti-government protesters who had taken over the commercial heart of the city. There have been no reports of violence in Bangkok since Thursday, when the red shirt protesters started to withdraw. But they have threatened to resume their campaign next month.

Bangkok, a city of 15 million, was operating as usual today, but the government said a night curfew would stay in force until May 29, over concerns that some remnants of the hard-core protesters could launch more attacks. Deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban said the curfew, which will be in force between midnight and 4am in the capital and 23 provinces, was necessary to prevent more unrest, but would not be in place for seven days, as was announced yesterday.

"We have cut the time frame from seven to four days because we want to limit the impact on the public," Mr Suthep told reporters. Mr Thaksin is no stranger to arrest warrants and court cases. He jumped bail and fled abroad in 2008 when he was facing charges of corruption and was sentenced in absentia to two years in jail. In February, Thailand's top court seized $1.4 billion of his assets, saying it was accrued through abuse of power.

* Reuters