Fugitive former Thai leader meets Nelson Mandela
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Last Updated: Thursday, September 02, 2010, 20:48
Bangkok: Emerging from weeks of silence, fugitive former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has appeared in Africa, where he says he is dealing in diamonds and visiting Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nelson Mandela.

A photo of his meeting with the former South African president was released in Thailand by Thaksin's lawyer in an apparent move to quash rumors that the divisive ex-prime minister is ill and to advertise that he's rubbing shoulders with VIPs abroad.

"I travel all the time. Currently, I'm in Africa for diamond mining," Thaksin told the Thai Rath newspaper in an interview published today. He did not specify if he was still in South Africa. He said rumors of his failing health were "lies."

The Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg confirmed that the visit took place last Friday.

"It was not a meeting, it was a courtesy call," spokesman Sello Hatang said. He said he did not know what they discussed.

Thaksin was ousted in a military coup in 2006. He is widely accused of funding anti-government "Red Shirt" protests in April and May that occupied Bangkok's main retail district, forcing the closure of major shopping malls and hotels. The protesters were seeking to unseat the current government and possibly bring Thaksin back to power. Sporadic violence and a crackdown by the military left 91 people dead and 1,4000 wounded.

The tycoon-turned-politician remains popular among his rural poor power base but was convicted on conflict of interest charges in 2008 and fled the country. Thailand revoked his passports but Thaksin has acquired at least two new ones from Nicaragua and Montenegro.


First Published: Thursday, September 02, 2010, 20:48

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