Exiled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra urged Thailand's widely respected king on Wednesday to intervene in a political conflict that led to the capital being paralyzed for several days of violent demonstrations by the ousted politician's supporters.
The appeal came after the government announced it revoked the personal passport of Thaksin, who it accuses of stoking the protests. He has been on the run since fleeing Thailand ahead of a corruption conviction last year, returning only once — briefly — while his allies were in power.
A day after a mounting crackdown by the army led his supporters to end demonstrations that resulted in two deaths and 123 injuries, Thaksin said King Bhumibol Adulyadej should help quell the political unrest.
"I have urged his majesty to intervene," Thaksin said in an interview with France-24 television from Dubai. "He is the only person that can intervene ... otherwise the violence will become wider and also the confrontation would be more and more."
The 81-year-old monarch is revered in this Southeast Asian nation, enjoying wide support among Thais regardless of political affiliation.
Thaksin said the king should work to reconcile the factions in Thailand, which has been wracked by a growing rift between the ousted leader's mainly poor, rural backers and the urban elites who support his opponents.
Passport revoked Sunday
The government said Thaksin's personal passport was revoked Sunday. It had already revoked his diplomatic passport.
"If we believe the person who holds the passport is doing anything that could undermine the security of the nation, then we have the right to revoke the passport," Foreign Ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat said.
Since fleeing, Thaksin has been spotted in Central America, London, Dubai and Hong Kong, among other places. He has said previously that several countries have offered to issue him passports.
A state of emergency remained in place Wednesday, with soldiers continuing to patrol key intersections in the capital.
Police were searching for the protest leaders, only three of whom were in custody, checking airports in case some tried to flee the country, local television stations said. The three in custody were expected in court Thursday, their lawyers said.
Bringing the protests to an end and rounding up the leaders may prove to be the easy part, analysts said Wednesday. The harder task will be to restore Thailand's battered image abroad and heal internal divisions that have caused continuing unrest since Thaksin's ouster in a 2006 coup.
Conciliatory but tough stance
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva struck a conciliatory but tough stance hours after the demonstrations ended, insisting that protest leaders would be prosecuted but also offering to sit down with all parties.
Thaksin's supporters — the "red shirts" — are drawn largely from the impoverished countryside where his populist policies have broad support. On the other side are the "yellow shirts," a mix of the ruling elite royalists, academics, professionals and retired military.
Following the coup, Thaksin's allies were returned to power, setting off prolonged demonstrations by the yellow shirts that culminated in the weeklong occupation of Bangkok's airports late last year.
Those protests ended after court rulings removed two prime ministers from office, paving the way for Abhisit's rise to power, but setting off the rival — and most recent — demonstrations.
"We are at a critical juncture now," said Thitinan Pongsidhirak, a political scientist at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University. "Will the uprising we've seen be taken as a wake up call by the Abhisit government or be seen as just a nuisance, something suppressed by the government?"