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Thailand's Thaksin pleads innocent 

/ Source: The Associated Press

Ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra pleaded innocent Wednesday in the Supreme Court in one of two corruption cases against him.

The court session came just a day before he begins a monthlong trip to England, for which the court granted him permission Tuesday.

"The defendant pleaded not guilty of the charges," chief judge Thongloh Chom-ngam told the court, which set the next hearing for April 29. It also excused Thaksin from having to appear at every hearing, as requsted by his lawyer.

"We can prove our innocence," said Thaksin, who was ousted by a September 2006 military coup for alleged corruption and abuse of power.

Thaksin faces conflict of interest and malfeasance charges related to his wife's purchase of a prime piece of Bangkok real estate in 2003. She bought the land from a government agency despite an anti-corruption law barring politicians and their spouses from doing business with state agencies.

More than 200 policemen with bomb detectors and five sniffer dogs were deployed around the court while some 400 of Thaksin's supporters were on hand to greet him as he entered the buildling.

The court earlier granted Thaksin permission to leave Thailand on Thursday for a month, his spokesman said.

"Thaksin told the court he needed to go back to England to look after his soccer team and do some private business," said spokesman Pongthep Thepkanjana. Thaksin owns English Premier League soccer team Manchester City.

The court's secretary, Rakkiat Pattanaphong, said Thaksin must report back to it on April 11.

Thaksin, who became a billionaire in telecommunications, bought Manchester City during his 17 months of post-coup exile. The team, which lost two of its last three matches, is ranked eighth in the Premier League. It plays 11th-place Tottenham on Sunday.

"That's the reason I have to go back (the) day after tomorrow. That's my commitment to Manchester City," Thaksin said. "I feel like they are losing so many games, win very few games in the past three, four months while I am still busy, so I have to go back and tighten the bolt."

Thaksin, who was abroad at the time of the coup against him, returned to Thailand on Feb. 28. A court dissolved his former ruling Thai Rak Thai party last year and banned him and more than 100 of its top executives from political office for five years.

Thaksin, who was prime minister in 2001-06, has insisted he has no interest in returning to politics and has said he plans to devote himself to charity work, sports and his family.

However, his return has stirred the Thai political scene because of suspicions that Thaksin will seek a return to power and try to settle the score against those who deposed him.

"Let bygones be bygones," he said Tuesday.