Friday, 10 June 2011

Thai PM slams rivals' Thaksin 'whitewash'

BANGKOK (AFP) - Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva accused the opposition Wednesday of inflaming political tensions by "whitewashing" the crimes of their de facto leader, fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Abhisit is in the midst of a tough electoral battle against Thaksin's allies in the Puea Thai party, who want an amnesty for politicians who have been charged or convicted if they win the July 3 vote.

This would potentially pave the way for the return of Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and lives abroad to avoid a jail term for corruption. He is also charged with terrorism in relation to unrest in Bangkok last year.

Abhisit, who heads the establishment-backed Democrat Party, said it did not make sense for political parties to "try to introduce fresh points of contention", such as "whitewashing Thaksin".

"I don't believe their (Puea Thai's) plan is one for reconciliation," Abhisit told foreign correspondents in the capital.

He said one of the Puea Thai leaders, Chalerm Yubamrung, "has been very clear about that. He wants Thaksin back, basically whitewashing Thaksin, and we offer the country to move beyond that problem."

Thaksin's youngest sister, political newcomer Yingluck Shinawatra, is the Puea Thai's top candidate for prime minister, underscoring her brother's ongoing dominance in Thailand's fractured political scene.

Parties linked to Thaksin have won the most seats in the past four elections, but the results of the last two were reversed by the courts.

Abhisit said that if Puea Thai wins the most seats they would "get the first shot" at forming a government.

Oxford-educated Abhisit, who came to power at the end of 2008 in a parliamentary vote and is accused by critics of having no popular mandate, said a return by Thaksin as a free man "doesn't augur well for the rule of law".

"He should come back and serve his sentence as any Thai would have to."

Thaksin, a former telecoms tycoon, is hailed by many rural and working-class Thais for his populist policies but loathed by the Bangkok-based elite which sees him as corrupt, authoritarian and a threat to the monarchy.

Protests by his "Red Shirt" supporters led to Thailand's worst civil violence in decades last April and May, in which more than 90 people died in clashes between the opposition street movement and security forces.

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