Ousted Thai leader Thaksin marks birthday with tweets from exile amid new political tensions

By Kinan Suchaovanich, AP
Monday, July 26, 2010

Divisive ex-Thai leader marks birthday on Twitter

BANGKOK — Thailand’s deposed leader Thaksin Shinawatra marked his 61st birthday Monday with tweets from exile that called for peace, a day after a grenade exploded in downtown Bangkok that left one person dead and 10 wounded.

There have been no claims of responsibility for Sunday’s blast at a bus stop in a busy shopping district, which coincided with a parliamentary election that pitted a jailed leader of recent pro-Thaksin protests against a government candidate who narrowly won.

Authorities have declined to speculate whether the bombing was related to Thailand’s continued political turbulence in the wake of the street demonstrations that paralyzed much of the capital for weeks. During two months of unrest that ended with an army crackdown May 19, almost 90 people died — mostly protesters — and more than 1,400 were hurt.

“I am 61 today,” Thaksin tweeted. “I want to see good things happening in our country and am prepared to cooperate with all sides.” He did not elaborate.

“Please do not resort to violence. I don’t like it. I disagree with it,” Thaksin added. The ex-leader and former tycoon is widely believed to have financed the so-called Red Shirt anti-government movement.

Thailand has been in a state of political turmoil since 2006, when a coup ousted then-Prime Minister Thaksin, who was popular among the rural and urban poor. Since then, his supporters and opponents have staged a bitter struggle for power and called for the return of Thaksin who fled into exile to avoid a 2007 corruption conviction. He is believed to spend most of his time in Dubai.

The Red Shirts, made up of Thaksin’s supporters and other opponents of the coup, staged protests in April last year and then relaunched their campaign against Abhisit in March this year and occupied parts of Bangkok for more than two months.

Thaksin supporters held birthday celebrations for him Monday in several parts of the country. Thaksin phoned in to a birthday gathering at a Buddhist temple in his northern hometown of Chiang Mai, telling the hundreds of people assembled that he wants to come home.

Pro-Thaksin groups accused government supporters of orchestrating Sunday’s blast to justify a state of emergency still in place in Bangkok and other provinces and the detention of several top protest leaders.

Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said an investigation was under way and it was too soon “to point a finger.”

Bangkok deputy police chief Panupong Singhrra Na Ayutthaya said that Sunday’s blast was caused by an M67 grenade stashed in a garbage bin next to a bus stop that had been modified to be detonated remotely. He said the grenade had a 15-meter blast radius.

Authorities were searching for suspects whose images were captured by closed-circuit cameras in the area, he said.

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