Bangkok: Thailand will issue a passport for its fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra "very soon," his sister's government said on Friday, angering the controversial ex-leader's opponents.
Thaksin, who remains a hugely divisive figure, was deposed by the army in 2006 and lives in self-imposed exile overseas to avoid a two-year prison term on a conviction for corruption that he contends is politically motivated.
He was stripped of his passport by the previous Thai government but received citizenship from Montenegro last year, allowing him to travel internationally.
His sister Yingluck is now premier after a resounding election victory by his party earlier this year, in the wake of mass opposition protests in 2010 by Thaksin's "Red Shirt" supporters which ended with a bloody army crackdown.
"When Thaksin's passport was cancelled, there was no order from the courts or the police to seize it," Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul told reporters.
"So I will use my authority to do whatever is not illegal under the regulations of the ministry to give the passport to ex-premier Thaksin," he said.
"We are checking some more details but it will be very soon. It will be a normal Thai passport. Let's make a normal passport legally first. It doesn't have to be a diplomat passport."
The announcement stoked tensions with Thaksin's enemies, already irked by recent reports -- denied by the government -- of plans to see a royal pardon for the ex-premier that could allow him to return without serving time.
The opposition Democrat Party said it was not surprised by the decision to issue a new passport for Thaksin, saying that Surapong's "only duty" as foreign minister was to help the fugitive ex-premier.
"If you look at his background, he has no knowledge of foreign languages, no foreign policy experience," Democrat Party spokesperson Chavanond Intarakomalyasut told a news agency.
"He was appointed only to help Thaksin. It is the only thing he is good for and his only duty as foreign minister."
Thailand's influential and anti-Thaksin "Yellow Shirt" royalist movement said the foreign minister could be breaking the law by issuing Thaksin a Thai passport as it is illegal for Thais to hold dual nationality.
First Published: Friday, December 02, 2011, 17:47