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Ex-PM Thaksin plans early return

Exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra has celebrated Thailand's most important holiday in neighbouring Cambodia this weekend, telling thousands of fervent supporters who crossed the border to meet him that he intends to return home soon on his own terms.

Thaksin, ousted by a 2006 military coup after being accused of abuse of power and disrespect for the monarchy, led a song-filled rally to mark Songkran, the Thai New Year.

The 62-year-old has been living overseas since jumping bail in 2008 to avoid a two-year jail term on a corruption conviction he says was politically motivated.

Thaksin - by far Thailand's most divisive politician - has said in the last few days that his return will be "in the next three to four months," "not so long," and when "everything is stable".

He sang several popular songs during his appearance, with lyrics changed to stress his homesickness or urge his supporters to back his younger sister Yingluck, the current prime minister. He added a strikingly off-key rendition of My Way, which segued oddly into Let It Be.

Thaksin also visited Laos, another neighbour, as part of his well-publicised Songkran tour. Since the beginning of the year, he has visited all four of Thailand's immediate neighbours - including Burma and Malaysia - suggesting, symbolically at least, that he is closing in on his goal.

After fleeing Thailand, he based himself in Dubai and fostered a pro-Thaksin "Red Shirt" movement, a counterweight to a "Yellow Shirt" royalist group whose 2006 street demonstrations paved the way for his ouster.

In 2009, he openly backed Red Shirt rioting against an anti-Thaksin government led by the Democrat Party, and in 2010 more discreetly encouraged vastly more disruptive Bangkok street demonstrations that resulted in the worst political violence in decades, including the deaths of 91 people over two months.

Thaksin's battles at the polls have been more fruitful. Pro-Thaksin parties won convincing victories in all four general elections since 2001 - five if an invalidated poll in 2006 is counted.

With his sister now prime minister and his allies holding a firm majority in Parliament, Thaksin's prospects appear good. But his 2006 ouster - after becoming the first prime minister ever to complete a four-year term, and then being re-elected by an unprecedented majority - is a reminder that he still has powerful enemies.

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