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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 April, 2003, 10:03 GMT 11:03 UK
Thai PM makes dream flight
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra gives the thumbs up prior to his flight in an F-16B jetfighter
Mr Thaksin broke the sound barrier
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has fulfilled a life-long dream to fly a fighter jet, despite concerns that the experience could damage his health.

Mr Thaksin, 53, sat in the co-pilot's seat, as the Royal Thai Air Force F-16 jet made a 45-minute flight from Bangkok to north-eastern Nakhon Ratchasima town.

The Thai leader gave a thumbs-up sign as the jet rolled towards the runway. The flight, which was broadcast live on Thai television, took the prime minister through the sound barrier.

Mr Thaksin said he was declared fit to make the flight despite a history of medical problems with his ears, but one of the doctors who treated the leader last year told The Nation newspaper that the trip was inadvisable.

"Since I was a student I had dreamed of being a pilot," Mr Thaksin told reporters before the flight, which made him the first Thai prime minister to fly in a fighter jet.

Criticism

The flight drew public criticism from people who said a national leader should not put himself at unnecessary risk.

A group reportedly went to the government headquarters on Tuesday with a petition urging Mr Thaksin to cancel the trip.

The Thai leader was admitted to hospital last April for an infection of the inner ear, linked to air travel.

A doctor who treated him then, Dr. Sujitra Prasarnsuk, told The Nation: "I think he shouldn't do it if it is not necessary. His hearing mechanisms, which have a history of trouble, are vulnerable. And for every man over 40, it wouldn't take much to damage nerve cells."


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