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Former Thai Leader's US Visit Renews Calls for Justice

Members of Nation Associate Anti-Corruption Network rally against former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's visit to America outside the U.S. embassy in Bangkok, August 10, 2012.
BANGKOK — Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has been visiting the United States on his first trip to the country since he was ousted in a coup in 2006.

His opponents have been demanding Washington revoke his visa and extradite the former leader to Thailand, where he faces jail time for conflict of interest charges from his time as leader.

The opposition Democrats have urged the Thai government to push the United States, a close ally of Thailand, for his arrest and extradition. On Friday, a group of about 200 protesters gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok making the same demand.

The demonstrators held banners and signs reading “Ugly American” and “What Rule of Law?”

Mongkolkit Suksintharanon, secretary of a group calling itself the Nation Associate Anti-Corruption Network, says in two weeks they will be back for answers. And he added they are calling on the United States to revoke Thaksin's visa immediately.

Walter Braunohler, the U.S. Embassy spokesman in Bangkok, says they welcome Thai people’s right to protest peacefully. But, as a policy, they cannot discuss individual visa cases.

“I can’t talk about the specifics of any one case, but I can say that the issuance of a U.S. visa does not imply any position on Thailand’s internal matters,” Braunohler said.

Thaksin last visited the United States in 2006 as prime minister. But, in his absence, the military ousted him in a coup.

His detractors, the royalist Yellow Shirts, say Thaksin was corrupt and power hungry. His supporters, known as the Red Shirts, say Bangkok elites viewed his growing popularity among the rural masses as a threat to their power.

In 2010, the Red Shirts occupied parts of Bangkok demanding new elections. Clashes with the military left 90 people dead. Elections last year put in office Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra.

Critics say her brother is really in charge, while she says Thaksin is just an advisor.

Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Sek Wannamethee says the government has no plans to seek Thaksin’s extradition.

“His trip to the United States is a private visit. And, we were never, the Thai government was never informed, nor were we aware of his program. As for his travels abroad, the Thai government, we don’t have a policy of restricting his traveling abroad.”

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s ruling Pheu Thai party has been pushing for laws they say would help reconcile Thailand’s political divisions. Opponents say they are designed to grant amnesty to Thaksin so he could return to Thai politics.

The former leader's one week visit included stops in New York and California, among others. He was greeted by both Red Shirt supporters and Yellow Shirt opponents.

In Los Angeles, Thai media report, anti-Thaksin protesters blocked his route preventing him from giving a speech to supporters.

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