From Dubai to Sweden and now Russia: It’s been a busy travel week for Thailand’s fugitive former leader Thaksin Shinawatra.
As thousands of his rural supporters camp out in Bangkok, pressing the government to call fresh elections, the 60-year-old tycoon is trotting the globe in search of business ventures - and rallying Red Shirt protesters from afar by video link.
“I am on a business trip in Russia,” Mr. Thaksin told supporters on Tuesday night, adding that he was meeting with a businessman “who is sitting on a big pile of cash. He is interested in investing in Asia. So when I return to Thailand, I could bring him along with me.” His remarks were carried by several Thai newspapers on Wednesday.
Mr. Thaksin was removed from office by a 2006 coup and fled the country two years later ahead of a conviction on a conflict of interest charge.
Yet the two-time premier remains at the centre of Thailand’s political crisis.
He has orchestrated, and to some extent funded, the Red Shirt protesters who are demanding that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva call fresh elections. The protesters have been camped in a historic district of the Thai capital since March 12 and are planning another mass march this Saturday. Earlier marches have snarled traffic and drawn upward of 100,000 people.
While Mr. Thaksin continues to stir up the demonstrators, he is apparently no longer welcome to do so from his longtime base of Dubai, Thai officials said.
“We are told that Dubai will not let him conduct political activities there,” said Chavanont Intarakomalyasut, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, adding that Mr. Thaksin has not been kicked out of the United Arab Emirates. “To stay there - to live there - is another story.”
Thailand has revoked his passport and wants him extradited to serve his two-year jail term arising from his 2008 conviction. Britain, Germany and other countries have barred Mr. Thaksin, but there are no shortage of others willing to accept his investment offers and hand over new passports, including Nicaragua and Montenegro, where he visited earlier this month.
Mr. Thaksin also stays in touch with supporters through Twitter and Facebook, bemoaning his fate and exhorting them to keep up the fight. Photo posts have shown him golfing in Brunei and Dubai, inspecting diamond mines in South Africa, sipping coffee in a private jet and meeting prime ministers or presidents on trips to Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea and the Maldives.
The Thai Foreign Ministry said it was trying to confirm Mr. Thaksin’s presence in Russia but knew he left Sweden on Monday.
“I wasn’t kicked out of Sweden,” Mr. Thaksin said in his video statement, wearing a red jacket. “I am still free. And my brain is functioning well. I would like to use that to our country’s benefit.”
The Swedish Embassy in Thailand confirmed that Mr. Thaksin had briefly visited the Scandinavian country, arriving on Saturday - when more than 60,000 of his supporters marched in Bangkok.
“We did not ask him to come, and we did not ask him to leave,” said Karlo Laakso, the embassy’s deputy head of mission, adding that Mr. Thaksin had travelled on a passport that did not require a Swedish visa. “He’s resourceful.”