Thailand's Thaksin denies amnesty bill is aimed at him

BANGKOK (AFP) - Fugitive former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra denied Wednesday that a controversial amnesty bill pushed by his allies was for his personal benefit, accusing political opponents of "distortions and lies".

There have been daily protests in Bangkok since the politically charged legislation was approved by the lower house last week, raising fears among Thaksin's foes that he could return from self-imposed exile.

"It has been distorted that the amnesty will return my money to me and whitewash only one person, even though the objective is to make the country move past conflicts and give justice to the victims of the 2006 coup," Thaksin said in a statement released by his legal adviser.

"As I was once the prime minister I respect the different opinions of Thai people but I cannot accept the distortions and lies that my family and I have been subjected to for several years," Thaksin said.

Seven years after he was ousted by royalist generals, Thaksin remains a hugely divisive figure in Thailand.

The former telecoms tycoon lives in Dubai to avoid prison for a corruption conviction imposed in his absence in 2008 that he contends was politically motivated.

In 2010, a court also seized US$1.4 billion (S$1.74 billion) of the Thaksin family assets for abuse of power.

As well as pardoning people involved in political protests, the amnesty would cover those accused of crimes by organisations set up after the coup - such as Thaksin, who was targeted by an anti-corruption panel.

The amnesty bill was passed by the lower house on Friday and is due to be debated in the Senate next week.

Senate speaker Nikom Wairatpanij on Tuesday said he believed senators would reject the bill, but it was unclear whether he was speaking for a majority in the upper house.

Even if the Senate rejects the bill, the lower house can pass the legislation and send it to the king for approval after a delay of 180 days.

Thaksin's sister Yingluck Shinawatra, who is now prime minister, on Tuesday defended the bill, urging the country to "forgive".

She said the amnesty was needed to reunite the country after years of turmoil culminating in a bloody crackdown by the previous government on pro-Thaksin "Red Shirt" protests in 2010 that left more than 90 civilians dead.

But she said the lower house would "accept" the Senate's decision.

The bill has even angered some Red Shirts, who are usually loyal to Thaksin but who want justice for the killing of fellow protesters in the 2010 crackdown.

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