Interview embroils Thai ex-PM in new controversy

AP News
Posted: Nov 09, 2009 12:01 PM

Thailand's ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, at the center of a political fight between his supporters and those of the current government, has ignited fresh controversy by speaking candidly about the nation's constitutional monarchy.

Thaksin gave a rare extensive interview that was published Monday by the Times of London on its Web site in which he spoke glowingly of the prospects for Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn once he succeeds his father, 81-year old King Bhumibol Adulyadej. But he criticized the king's close advisers for interfering with politics.

Open discussion of the succession issue is a delicate issue, in part because of strict laws that prohibit insulting the king and his family and make such criticism punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

The interview was published amid a furor over neighboring Cambodia's appointment of Thaksin as a government adviser. Thailand responded by withdrawing its ambassador from Phnom Penh, and Cambodia retaliated in kind.

Thaksin went into self-imposed exile last year ahead of a court judgment that found him guilty of violating a conflict of interest law and sentenced him to two years in jail. He served as prime minister from 2001 to 2006, when he was ousted by a military coup after being accused of corruption and showing disrespect to the monarchy.

Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, who was an anti-Thaksin activist before joining the government, said to reporters that Thaksin's interview remarks were offensive to the monarchy, and questioned his motive for making them.

Other officials in the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva also criticized Thaksin.

Thaksin's supporters and opponents have repeatedly taken to the streets since his ouster to spar over who has the right to rule the country, sometimes sparking violence.

On a Web page he maintains, Thaksin later said that The Times had distorted his comments, especially in its headline reading, "Ousted Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra calls for 'shining' new age after King's death."

"I want to condemn timesonline for presenting this false news and causing this confusion. I affirm once again that my family and I have loyalty to the King and the Queen, and I am ready to sacrifice my life to protect the institution, the same as all Thais are."

In the Times interview, which included a transcript posted online, the former prime minister was laudatory about Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, whom he described as "the newer generation, modern."

"He has a very strong determination to do what he really wants to achieve," said Thaksin.

He also offered repeated, almost fulsome praise of King Bhumibol, but said the circle of people around him, particularly his main adviser, former Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda, had illegitimately interfered in politics.

Many people believe Prem engineered the coup against Thaksin, a charge he has denied.

The king has been in hospital for almost two months with a lung ailment.