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Controversial Thai Prime Minister Resumes Duties


Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has resumed his duties after taking a leave of absence in April because of protests against his leadership. But opposition parties say the embattled leader's return may trigger renewed political demonstrations.

Thaksin Shinawatra, who stepped aside as prime minister on April 4 after a controversial election and months of protests against his rule, returned to work Tuesday. Mr. Thaksin, speaking to reporters as he entered his office to chair a cabinet meeting, confirmed that he had resumed his duties as prime minister.

Seven weeks ago, the Thai leader made an emotional announcement on television saying he would not seek the post of prime minister in the next parliament. He handed over day-to-day powers to a deputy and left the country for several weeks.

However, a senior official in Mr. Thaksin's party and former government spokesman, Jakrapob Penkair, says Thailand's problems require Mr. Thaksin's attention.

"The prime minister has been concerned about the deterioration of certain issues, the southern situation, the economic slowdown - or what seems to be the confidence towards Thailand," said Jakrapob. "All these matters are the immediate concern and the prime minister would attend to them."

Mr. Thaksin's political problems began in January after his family sold nearly $2 billion worth of stock in the company he founded - in a tax-free but legal transaction. The sale prompted street protests demanding the prime minister resign because of allegations of corruption and abuse of power.

In an effort to quell discontent, Mr. Thaksin called snap elections for April 2. However, the vote was boycotted by the main opposition parties and was later nullified by Thailand's high courts.

The opposition Democrat Party Tuesday warned that the prime minister's return would trigger more turmoil. Party spokesman, Ong-art Klampaiboon, says Mr. Thaksin should first answer the allegations against him.

"I think we still need the answer about corruption, conflict of interest, about the selling of the Shin Corp deals and many questions about this," said Ong-Art. "I think he has to answer these questions before he turns back. That's why he has no legitimacy."

The Election Commission is also under pressure to resign because of its handling of the April 2 election. The commission has set a date of October 29 for the next vote but the date is not yet final.

In the meantime, analysts like Thamassat University's Somphob Manarangsan, fear that Mr. Thaksin's return to government will revive the anti-government protests.

"I think that the conflict within Thai society becomes [is to] worsen again," said Somphob. "I think the process [is] against the comeback of Mr. Thaksin. I think the protests be [are] quite likely particularly from July."

But resolution of the Thai political crisis remains on hold as the country prepares to mark the celebrations in June of the 60th anniversary of the reign of King Bhumipol Adulyadej - the world's longest reigning monarch.

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