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Thai PM Offers to Negotiate with Exiled Former PM Thaksin


Thailand's military-installed prime minister, Surayud Chulanont, says he is ready to talk with his deposed predecessor, Thaksin Shinawatra. The offer came after Mr. Thaksin, in a televised speech to a rally in Bangkok, said he wanted to return to Thailand to fight corruption charges against him and his family. Ron Corben reports from the Thai capital.

Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont made the offer Saturday in his weekly address to the nation. He said the government would like to discuss Mr. Thaksin's assets, and his family's activities while he was in office.

The government spokesman, Yongyuth Mayalarp, quoted Mr. Surayud as saying Mr. Thaksin would be free to raise any issues he wanted. "He is ready to have dialogue with Khun Thaksin," said Yongyuth. "In the past, it was Khun Thaksin who contacted the prime minister. So it's up to Khun Thaksin which topic he would like to talk about with the prime minister. Khun Thaksin is a Thai citizen, so he's entitled to return to Thailand as a Thai citizen whenever he likes."

Mr. Surayud's offer came after a pro-Thaksin rally in central Bangkok Friday evening. About 10,000 Thaksin supporters watched and cheered as a 28-minute speech by the former prime minister, recorded in his exile home in London, played on six large video screens.

Mr. Thaksin accused the junta that ousted him last September of undermining the country's reputation and economy and abusing the rule of law. He pleaded to be allowed to live freely, and with dignity.

Earlier this week, a committee established by the junta to investigate Mr. Thaksin's activities as prime minister froze 21 bank accounts, with about $1.5 billion, that are linked to his family.

Mr. Thaksin told the rally the freezing of his assets was a ploy by the junta to isolate him politically. A Thai court had earlier dissolved Mr. Thaksin's political party, Thai Rak Thai, after finding it guilty of fraud during general elections in April last year.

Mr. Thaksin's supporters say they would like him to return to try to clear his name. But the head of the military junta, Army Chief Sonthi Boonyaratglin, has said the former leader might be killed if he returned.

One of those in the crowd Friday, a 69-year-old medical practitioner who identified herself as Dr. Pat, said she would worry about Mr. Thaksin's well-being. "We would all like him to come back, but we're not sure about his safety, about assassination - it's maybe or maybe not," she said. "But if he come back right now, it's not [safe] for him."

Another huge pro-Thaksin rally was scheduled for Saturday evening, and media reports have warned of potential violence as opposition to the coup leaders becomes more open. Abhisit Vejjajiva, the head of the Democrat Party and formerly Mr. Thaksin's leading opponent, said he also supports Mr. Thaksin's return, but he warned against any move to provoke social unrest. "I mean, he has a right to come back and fight his case," said Abhisit. "He can exercise his legal rights, but he should be careful not to incite violence."

Mr. Thaksin faces a range of corruption allegations, linked to the sale of his family's shares in a satellite and communications company, to contracts for the new $4 billion international airport, and to a land purchase from the central bank by his wife.

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