Thailand revoked the passport of Thaksin Shinawatra on Wednesday, escalating a campaign against the fugitive former premier and his allies for allegedly inciting deadly anti-government protests.
Police said they were also hunting the main organisers of the demonstrations that left two people dead and 123 injured this week, after a court issued arrest warrants for Thaksin and 12 top supporters.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has vowed to prosecute all leaders of the rallies, which broke up on Tuesday after troops threatened to use force against thousands of demonstrators camped outside his offices.
Government spokesperson Panitan Wattanayagorn said Thaksin’s passport was withdrawn for inciting protests that forced the cancellation of a summit of Asian leaders on the Thai coast on Saturday.
”The ministry can cancel or recall a passport if it can prove that a person has caused damage to the country,” he told Agence France-Presse.
Thaksin was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and lives in exile to avoid a two-year jail term for corruption. He has made a series of speeches to his supporters in Thailand in recent weeks calling for a ”revolution”.
In a television interview filmed in Dubai before the passport announcement, the billionaire tycoon denied the official charges that he had incited violence.
”I feel very tragic on what is happening among the Thai people.
But I am not instigating it,” he told Al-Jazeera English. ”I keep telling them every day, the message is peaceful, peaceful, peaceful.”
The 59-year-old added that he would be prepared to return to Thailand to face justice if numerous cases against him, which also include previous charges of graft, were investigated by a ”neutral body”.
The government cancelled Thaksin’s diplomatic passport in December.
Thai police said earlier they were searching for the other protest leaders named in arrest warrants. Three have been charged and are in detention while the others remain at large.
The warrants accuse them of breaching the emergency measures put in place in Bangkok on Sunday, threatening acts of violence and inciting others to break the law.
”An investigation team is looking for them and checking their home towns to present warrants,” said Bangkok police commander Lieutenant General Worapong Shewpreecha.
”Police have checked with immigration and found that there are no records of them leaving the country,” he said.
Troops and police on Wednesday manned security checkpoints around the capital, but Panitan said Abhisit wanted to lift the state of emergency ”as soon as he can” to help local businesses.
Bangkok residents celebrated the end of the protests with the traditional pastime of soaking each other with water on final day of Buddhist New Year celebrations on Wednesday.
Demonstrators loyal to Thaksin, known as ”Red Shirts” because of their trademark attire, surrounded Abhisit’s offices three weeks ago to demand his resignation before moving to the resort of Pattaya to disrupt the Asian summit.
They accuse British-born Abhisit of being a stooge of Thailand’s military and of coming to power illegally after Thaksin’s allies were removed from government by a court in December.
The protesters returned to Bangkok on Monday where they fought street battles with armed troops in which two local residents who challenged the demonstrators were killed.
The Bangkok Post accused the protest leaders and Thaksin of ”heinous crimes” while another newspaper, the Nation, said the peaceful end to the riots had strengthened Abhisit.
Last year yellow-shirted anti-Thaksin protesters mounted a street campaign peaking in a siege of the capital’s airports, but the leaders have yet to be prosecuted.
Thailand has been through years of turmoil since Thaksin was ousted, with deep rifts between Thaksin’s largely poor supporters and his establishment foes in the palace, military and bureaucracy. — Sapa-AFP