BANGKOK, May 25 (UPI) -- A Thai court has approved an arrest warrant for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on terrorism charges related to protests that paralyzed parts of Bangkok.
The anti-government demonstrations began March 14 and ended this month but not before more than 80 people died in clashes with police and military security forces.
Many of the protesters were supporters of the self-exiled Thaksin, who was ousted from power by a military coup in September 2006 but returned to Thailand when his political allies won power in 2007.
His wife, Pojaman, was sentenced in 2008 to three years in jail for tax fraud and, soon after, Thaksin, 60, received a 2-year prison sentence. He fled rather than surrendering to authorities, leaving an estimated $2 billion in frozen assets.
This week several leaders of the Red Shirt protesters, so called because they wear red shirts as identification, and the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship were also arraigned on charges ranging from breaking curfew to terrorism.
The government also extended the overnight curfew, in force since May 19 when the police moved in to disperse the protesters. The curfew from midnight to 4 a.m. is to run in Bangkok and 23 provinces until later this week.
The request for an arrest warrant for Thaksin was made by the Department of Special Investigation, which presented the court with documents and clips of Thaksin speaking from abroad via video links to demonstrators. The charges accuse him of coordinating the protests.
Deputy Police Col. Narat Savetanant told reporters after the court approved the warrant that the DSI is looking for Thaksin. He said the Office of the Attorney General would contact countries where Thai authorities believe Thaksin may be living and seek to extradite him.
The hunt for Thaksin has been a continuing problem for Thai authorities and in particular a contentious issue with the country's neighbor Cambodia.
In November Thailand formally requested the extradition of Thaksin under a treaty signed by both countries. But the Cambodian government, which had appointed Thaksin an economic adviser, refused, saying they believed Thaksin's conviction in absentia in 2008 on corruption charges was political and not criminal.
At the time Cambodia wasn't shy of putting Thaksin in front of the media. State television showed Thaksin and Prime Minister Hun Sen embracing each other, with Hun Sen reportedly calling Thaksin an "eternal friend."
The Thaksin problem also came at a time of a recurrent maritime border dispute between Bangkok and Phnom Penh and both countries recalled their ambassadors. A settlement of the disagreement would allow both countries to start more development of oil and gas reserves.
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, 45, said he believed the fact that Thaksin is wanted on terrorism charges would make it easier for Thailand to obtain his extradition.
A report in the Bangkok Post newspaper said Thaksin was recently sighted in many countries, the latest being France where he was seen in Cannes during the film festival this month.
He is also believed to have been issued a passport by Montenegro.
The government earlier asked several countries, including the United Arab Emirates where Thaksin has stayed in Dubai, to send him to back Thailand.
A return of Thaksin is a double-edged sword for the ruling Thai authorities. On the one hand they want him to serve his time for corruption as the courts decided. But they are also wary of his hold over the rural poor.
The Red Shirts and many within the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship support Shinawatra who won record election victories in 2001 and 2005. He is often credited with improving the financial situation of the northern poor, many of whom traveled to Bangkok for the recent weeks of demonstrations.
Thaksin, through his legal advisers, has rejected the court's terrorism charges. "I have never supported violence," he said. "The arrest warrant against me is unfair. I am ready to prove that I am not a terrorist and the accusation is politically motivated."