New Thai premier urges ex-premier to return

Thailand's new prime minister called Thursday for fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra to return home to face justice and bring closure to months of political turmoil that has revolved around him, reported AP.

Abhisit Vejjajiva made the comments a day after being sworn in as Thailand's third prime minister in four months.

Abhisit, a 44-year-old graduate of Oxford, is the first opponent of Thaksin to lead a civilian government in the past seven years. Thaksin, who took power in 2001, was ousted by a coup in 2006 but has nevertheless loomed over Thai politics since then.

A Thai court in October convicted Thaksin in absentia of violating a conflict of interest law while in office and sentenced him to two years in prison. There are several pending corruption cases against Thaksin, a former telecommunications tycoon.

"I want to see him back," Abhisit told Channel 7 news. "If he comes back and fights in court and shows that all Thai people are equal, there will be a closure."

"Thai society is merciful and forgiving, but first he has to show acceptance in the judicial process," said Abhisit, who was scrambling to assemble a Cabinet capable of tackling the country's economic and social problems.

Thaksin has lived in self-imposed exile ever since his ouster, surfacing in Britain, Hong Kong, China, Dubai and most recently Bali.

Six months of political tumult have centered on Thaksin, with protesters taking to the streets to demand the government be purged of his allies. The unrest came to a head with an eight-day siege of Bangkok's airports that ended earlier this month.

Critics had accused Thaksin of operating behind the scenes to assure his allies stayed in power long enough to clear him of corruption charges and help get his remaining riches out of the country.

The airport siege ended only after a court dissolved the former ruling party, which was packed with Thaksin's allies. The People's Power Party and two members of the ruling coalition were found guilty of committing electoral fraud in the December 2007 elections.

In his inaugural address Wednesday evening, Abhisit vowed to reunite the deeply divided nation and to restore Thailand's tourist-friendly image. The airport shutdown battered the country's essential tourism industry and stranded more than 300,000 travelers.

Abhisit said his first priority would be to revive Thailand's economy, which economists say is on the verge of recession.

The previous government forecast a contraction of up to 1 percent in the first quarter of 2009 and zero growth in the second quarter.

He also made overtures to the impoverished rural masses who were the foundation of Thaksin's support.

"Today, our country must be united," he said.

"I am well aware that the political situation is abnormal," Abhisit said. "My first job is to end a failed political system."

His Democrat Party had been in opposition since 2001.

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