Thailand Orders Arrest of Ousted Prime Minister Thaksin

A judge in Thailand has issued arrest warrants for former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his wife on corruption charges. Mr. Thaksin has been in exile since he was ousted in a military coup nearly a year ago. VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from Bangkok.

Thailand's military-installed government wants to bring Thaksin Shinawatra and his wife to trial on charges that they used their political influence to gain an unfair advantage in a land deal in 2003.

Mr. Thaksin was ousted last year following months of disruptive protests demanding his resignation for alleged corruption and abuse of power. The military junta promised to investigate those allegations, and Tuesday's arrest warrants were one result of the investigations.

At the time of the coup last September, the new leaders also promised a new constitution and a return to democracy within a year. That time is approaching.

Mr. Thaksin still enjoys substantial political support. The military-installed government has recently intensified its efforts to ensure he does not attempt a comeback, as Thailand prepares to vote on a new constitution August 19, and to hold elections soon thereafter.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political analyst at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, tells VOA the corruption case that led to the arrest warrants is part of the coup backers' strategy to disgrace Mr. Thaksin.

"This is part of the coup, part of the ouster of Thaksin," said Thitinan. "They have not only ousted him, but are ensuring that he does not make a political comeback because if he does, all these people [who] have undertaken the coup would be in trouble."

It is not clear whether the government will demand Thaksin's extradition from Britain, where he has spent most of the time since the coup. Thai government spokesman Yongyuth Mayalarp says the government is ready to do what the court orders, and pledges that the legal process against Thaksin and his wife will be fair.

"It is up to Khun Thaksin and his wife whether to return back to Thailand to face the court case or not. I think the main thing is that the government does not interfere in the legal process in any way, and that is what we have been doing all the way through," he said.

The leadership had earlier warned Mr. Thaksin to stay out of the country until after the elections later this year, saying authorities could not guarantee his safety.

He and his wife deny the corruption charges, and say they cannot get a fair trial under the current leadership. The couple's lawyers asked for the case to be postponed until next year, after a new elected government is in place.