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Thailand Wonders if  This Is the End for Former Prime Minister


Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has fled Thailand to avoid corruption charges. Many of his supporters say this is the end of the controversial billionaire's political career, but some opposition leaders and political analysts say they are not writing him off. Ron Corben reports from Bangkok.

Thai police issued arrest warrants for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his wife Pojaman this week after they fled the country instead of appearing before the Supreme Court to face corruption charges.

Mr. Thaksin and his family flew to Britain following a trip to the Beijing Olympics.

Several of his allies have said that Mr. Thaksin has abandoned his role in politics and has no more influence in the government.

Kraisak Choonhavan, a member of the opposition Democrat Party, disagrees, although he thinks the former prime minister will have a more indirect influence now.

"I would say that he's not completely out of the picture still," he said. "He's a fugitive and he's probably seeking refugee status and the Thai Attorney General would have to prove he's not a refugee and he doesn't deserve to have refugee status. And that will be a legal process that will become a political issue in the near future."

Mr. Thaksin and his wife face trial on several corruption charges for offenses that allegedly occurred while he was in office. Mrs. Pojaman has been convicted in one case and sentenced to three years in prison.

They deny any wrongdoing and say the charges are politically motivated. Mr. Thaksin also has said he does not think he can get a fair trial.

That complaint may resonate with his supporters among the urban and rural poor.

Sunai Pasuk, a representative for Human Rights Watch, says many supporters, who appreciated Mr. Thaksin's programs for the poor, will believe he has been badly treated.

"Well, indeed escape to England this time has turned Thaksin into a political martyr which will serve to maintain the strength of his party," he said.

Mr. Thaksin first went into exile after a coup in 2006. The coup was prompted by months of protests led by members of the educated upper classes, who consider him dictatorial and corrupt. He returned to Thailand earlier this year after his allies in the People Power Party won national elections.

Some political analysts say Mr. Thaksin hoped Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej could pass constitutional reforms that would have ended the corruption investigations.

However, street protests over the past three months forced the government to delay any changes.

Chris Baker, an author and analyst on Thailand, thinks the protests may ease with Mr. Thaksin gone.

"Yes, I think it's significantly calmed down now," he said. "My guess is that the Samak government will survive for quite a long time, much longer than many people suspect."

Over the next several weeks, prosecutors say they will prepare paperwork to ask British authorities to arrest and extradite Mr. Thaksin and his wife. That process, however, could take months, if not years.

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