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Thailand gives back passport to ex-PM Thaksin

Agence France Presse - December 16, 2011

Bangkok Thailand has given its fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra his passport back, the government said on Friday, despite strong opposition from the ex-tycoon's political opponents.

Thaksin, whose sister Yingluck is now prime minister, received the document from the Thai embassy in Abu Dhabi in October, the foreign ministry said.

Thaksin was stripped of his passport by the previous Thai government but received citizenship from Montenegro last year, allowing him to travel internationally.

Thaksin, who remains a hugely divisive figure, was deposed by the army in 2006 and lives in Dubai to avoid a two-year prison term on a conviction for corruption that he contends is politically motivated.

"This normal passport has nothing to do with extradition or whether he's innocent, but only his nationality," foreign ministry spokesman Thani Thongphakdi told reporters. "No government agency, including the police judiciary and interior ministry opposed the re-issue of Thaksin's passport," he said.

Thaksin's sister Yingluck won a resounding election victory in July of this year, in the wake of mass opposition protests in 2010 by his "Red Shirt" supporters which ended with a bloody army crackdown.

Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul told reporters two weeks ago that Thailand would give Thaksin a passport "very soon". Thani said Surapong had not been aware then that the document had already been issued.

The announcement stoked tensions with Thaksin's enemies, already irked by recent reports denied by the government of plans to seek a royal pardon for the ex-premier that could allow him to return without serving time.

The opposition Democrat Party said at the time it was not surprised by the decision to issue a new passport for Thaksin, saying that Surapong's "only duty" as foreign minister was to help the fugitive ex-premier. Yingluck has said the passport decision rested with the foreign ministry and she was not involved.

The row came at a delicate time for Yingluck as the 44-year-old leader, who was a political novice before taking office in August, has been grappling with the fallout from devastating floods.

In the early days of her premiership, Thaksin appeared keen to boost his profile with controversial trips to Japan and Cambodia, but he has largely remained silent during the flood crisis, which is now largely over. Yingluck has not yet taken any legal steps clearing the path for her brother's return, and a royal pardon granted to thousands of convicts to mark the Thai king's birthday earlier this month did not include the ex-premier.

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