M. Continuo

Thailand's Thaksin comes home, no political plans

By Dominic Whiting

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Ousted Thai Prime Minister ThaksinShinawatra returned home from exile on Thursday swearing tostay out of politics, although most analysts suspect he will berunning the country from behind the scenes.

His first action was to be to surrender to police at theairport on a corruption charge, then head to the Supreme Courtto seek bail.

Thousands of supporters thronged the airport, waving "WeLove Thaksin" banners and cardboard cutouts of their hero. Asthe telecoms billionaire's flight from Hong Kong touched down,chants of "Thaksin, Thaksin" echoed round the arrivals hall.

"I love him so much," said 65-year-old Wilai Scott. "I wantThaksin to be PM again." In a sign of widespread support amongBangkok's rank and file, Wilai said the taxi driver taking herto the airport refused to accept a fare.

Before boarding the flight, Thaksin said he was lookingforward to spending time with his family and seeing the land ofhis birth for the first time in 18 months. He was at the UnitedNations in New York at the time of the September 2006 coup.

"There is no place like your homeland," he said afterreceiving flowers from an old Thai lady in the departure loungein Hong Kong.

When pressed about a possible return to politics, Thaksinrepeated a well-rehearsed line about wanting to be a privatecitizen.

"No, enough is enough," he told reporters.

Few people in Thailand believe him.

It was the support for Thaksin in the countryside and amongurban workers that carried the People Power Party led by SamakSundaravej to near an overall majority in the Decemberelection. Voters expect and want Thaksin to be the man makingdecisions.

"We will have two prime ministers working at the same time-- one officially and the other unofficially," ChulalongkornUniversity political analyst Thitinan Pongsudhirak said.

BATTLE REJOINED

The generals who ousted him in the bloodless coup, accusingThaksin of presiding over rampant corruption and disrespectingrevered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, have been undermined by theinterim government they installed.

But most analysts expect a renewed battle between Thaksin,the military and the royalist establishment for control ofThailand's future.

Thaksin -- his party dissolved after the coup and himselfbarred from politics for five years for electoral fraud -- willstill have to fight one corruption charge and possibly more.

He was due to surrender himself to police at Bangkokairport, then go to the Supreme Court to seek bail on thecorruption charge relating to his wife's purchase of a primepiece of Bangkok real estate while in office.

He said he expected to be found innocent.

"Thailand is a democracy now. You are innocent until provenguilty," he said, adding he expected to be in Britain by March16 to watch his Premier League team Manchester City play.

Asked if he was worried about his personal safety, Thaksinsaid some, but not much. "Thai people are peaceful," he said.

However, the Nation newspaper said that rather than go tohis home, Thaksin had booked an entire floor of a riversidehotel to ensure security for himself and his family.

He is expected to hold a news conference at a Bangkok hotelon Thursday afternoon.

(Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Michael Battye)

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