Thaksin supporters denounce Thai court verdict

Supporters of populist former Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra denounced a court order to seize $1.4 billion of his assets, and vowed Saturday to pursue a nonviolent struggle for what they said would be a people's democracy.

But analysts and editorials widely speculated that the Supreme Court's decision not to seize all 76 billion baht ($2.3 billion) of Thaksin's vast fortune will at least temporarily ease political conflicts that have plagued the country for the past four years.

The court ruled Friday that Thaksin abused his power to enrich himself and his family while in office and ordered that $1.4 billion of his telecommunications fortune be seized.

Thaksin was deposed by a September 2006 military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. The action was meant to quell tensions sparked by months of anti-Thaksin protests, but instead polarized the country.

"What Thai people feel at the moment is that justice in this society is fading away," said Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, chairman of the pro-Thaksin Pheua Thai party. Referring to the advent of constitutional monarchy in 1932, he said that Thailand has been waiting for 78 years "for power to really belong to the people."

Chavalit called on every sector of society to engage in nonviolent protest. Despite warnings by the government that violence might erupt, no incidents were reported on Judgment Day, as Friday was dubbed.

Prinya Thaewanarumitkul, a law professor at Bangkok's Thammasat University, contended that the verdict was fair.

"I think the situation has loosened up from before, when there was speculation that all of Thaksin's assets might be seized," he said. "People who are neutral could find it acceptable."

The English-language Bangkok Post said in its Saturday editorial that "now that issue of Thaksin's billions has been legally settled, it is time to give the wounds a chance to heal. The alternative would be intolerable."

Thaksin and his supporters maintain he was overthrown because he challenged the country's entrenched elite while helping the poor masses whose backing was key to his two landslide election victories. Critics say during his 2001-2006 rule, Thaksin subverted democratic institutions, enriched himself and disrespected Thailand's revered king.

"I am putting a curse on myself. If I cheated, let me die within seven days. If I didn't cheat, let Thai people have democracy in March. Amen!" Thaksin said Saturday in an SMS message to his followers from Dubai, his current residence in exile.

Thaksin almost certainly will remain a key force in the Thai political arena.

His so-called Red Shirt supporters continue to rally on his behalf, and have promised a "million-man march" in Bangkok for March 14. They seek to force the government of current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, a Thaksin opponent, to call new elections.

The Supreme Court ruled that in four of five cases presented to it, the 60-year-old billionaire politician had used his authority as the country's leader to implement policies that benefited him, sometimes at the expense of the state.

With other cases pending against him and his family, it is unclear when the assets the court did not seize might be released. An unknown amount of Thaksin's fortune is banked overseas.

The Supreme Court said seizing all the assets "would be unfair as some of it was made before Thaksin became prime minister."

The most straightforward case of what is termed "policy corruption" involved a US$127 million low-interest government loan to Myanmar in 2004, which the court ruled Thaksin had promoted with the intention of securing its purchase of satellite services from Shin Satellite, then controlled by Thaksin's family.

The other rulings charged that telecommunications policies had resulted in benefits for companies he controlled.

Some predicted that even without Thaksin, the country's turmoil will continue because of deeply rooted injustices in society.

"The Red Shirts are self-organized and self-funded and are fighting for democracy, not for Thaksin. Yes, the majority love Thaksin, but that is not the same thing. They love him because he had pro-poor policies," said Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a radical republican living in England.

He said the Red Shirts "will be strong as ever and maybe a bit more angry."

"One side has to be defeated. Hopefully the democratic side will win," he said.