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Interview with Exiled Former Thai Leader Thaksin: 'I'm Like a Rat'

In a SPIEGEL interview, former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, 59, discusses the uprising of his supporters against the government in Bangkok and the role the king should play in resolving the lasting conflict in the tumultuous southeast Asian nation.

SPIEGEL: Dr. Thaksin, the news emerged from Bangkok on Friday that Sonhi Limthongkul, the leader of the government loyal Yellow Shirts, barely survived an assassination attempt. He has always been one of your most dogged opponents.

Thaksin Shinawatra: It was the government that declared a state of emergency. Even though there was an election, the government used its power in an even worse way than a putsch government. It controls every place, it can seize and search without any warrants, and they don't care about human rights. It's a government that has been given the license to kill. And I have the impression that the phase of "cut-off killings" has begun -- in other words, they are eliminating anyone who knows too much about the conspiracy of those in power against me.

SPIEGEL: Officially, two people died in the latest riots and 123 were injured. Do you dispute these figures?

Thaksin: It is an absolute lie.

SPIEGEL: Do you have proof of that?

Thaksin: After they said there were only two dead, we found two Red Shirts who had been tied with their hands behind their backs and were found in the Chao Praya River. We are still looking for others.

SPIEGEL: The world is very alarmed by the developments in your country. What is the reason for the lasting crisis?

Thaksin: The political elite are very worried because I and my associates have remained popular and powerful, as they were before. They would like to shift the power to the the other camp, the Democrats, but they cannot do it through democratic means. Now they are using all kinds of other means. They unsuccessfully tried to assassinate me. They also sparked protests, which were not successful -- but it was still enough for them to use it as an excuse to conduct the coup d'etat. After the coup, they politicized the justice system and convicted me and my family. Then they created an illegal constitution. Despite all that, the people still vote for my camp. This really upsets Bangkok. That's why the latest uprising happened.

SPIEGEL: How can Thailand pull itself out of this plight?

Thaksin: As long as the power struggle is not transparent and is not conducted by democratic means, everything will remain stuck. We will not be able to move. The justice system has been used to shore up a double standard -- it is lenient to one side and brutal to the other. Reconciliation is the only solution.

SPIEGEL: You have urged King Bhumibol to intervene and stop the crisis. Why hasn't he done anything yet?

Thaksin: I don't know. I cannot say anything about the royal monarchy.

SPIEGEL: But the word of the king is clearly decisive.

Thaksin: I would say that he is the only person who can reconcile. I don't think other people can. I have been watching my country from the outside for three years already. Nothing has improved.

SPIEGEL: Is Thailand's crisis also a crisis of the monarchy?

Thaksin: His majesty is 81 years old. We wish him a long life. And we also wish that he will continue to enjoy the respect of all Thais. As a Thai, it is difficult for me to say more. Thais don't have much freedom of speech.

SPIEGEL: But you are sitting here in Dubai, not Thailand, and you are completely free to say whatever you want.

Thaksin: But I have to be very, very careful, as a Thai and a former prime minister. I really respect his majesty.

SPIEGEL: You were once considered to be a close confidant of the king.

Thaksin: Yes, but I have been hated by the people who surround him. The president of the Privy Council (eds: a panel of appointed advisors to the monarchy) and the former prime minister under the military junta tried to topple me through the coup d'etat.

SPIEGEL: And you now hold these men responsible for the current crisis?

Thaksin: My government was democratically elected and won by a landslide. Now I am like a rat who stays in the house. They want to catch me so badly that they would dare to burn down the whole house to do so.

SPIEGEL: Your opponents claim that it was you who caused the latest conflagration by calling for the protests from abroad.

Thaksin: I have to give the people moral support. But when we say that we want a revolution, we mean that we want it through peaceful means. We in Thailand have long suffered under a democracy that is valid only for a few: the political elite in Bangkok.

SPIEGEL: In broad swaths of the population, you still enjoy great popularity. That means you also carry responsibility. Couldn't you be doing more to calm the current situation?

Thaksin: No way. The only choice is a broad reconciliation. We use peaceful means. The violence in Thailand comes from the government-supported armed forces. These are people who mix in with the protesters, kill people and create chaos.

SPIEGEL: What are you personally planning to do now?

Thaksin: I travel a lot and I don't normally stay in a place for longer than two weeks. I have business to take care of. The Red Shirt Committees work independently and make their own decisions. Sometimes they call me for advice, but they don't have to believe in me. I don't support them financially because my assets in Thailand have been frozen and I don't have much money.

SPIEGEL: The government has stripped you of your passport -- how do you travel now?

Thaksin: I have passports from other countries. Friends and leaders from many countries have offered me honorary citizenship, a passport or travel documents. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is strongly behind me and his country has given me a diplomatic passport.

SPIEGEL: How can lasting peace be achieved in Thailand?

Thaksin: Both sides have committed wrong doings. It's time to reconcile by forgiving each other, forgetting the past and looking forward. We should become one nation and one people. But I will not recognize the current prime minister and the other side will not accept me. The king must help. He must draw up a democratic constitution and then we need new elections.

Interview conducted by Bernhard Zand.

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© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2009
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