Page last updated at 12:51 GMT, Thursday, 28 February 2008

Emotional return for ex-Thai PM

Former Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra kisses the ground at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok, Thailand (28/02/2008)

Former Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra has returned to his homeland, 17 months after being deposed in a military coup.

Thousands of flag-waving supporters, including key figures in the newly elected government, gathered at Bangkok's main airport to greet him.

Mr Thaksin was taken straight to court to face charges of abuse of power during his time in office - charges he insists are politically motivated.

He was granted bail and told not to leave Thailand without permission.

Mr Thaksin - a multi-billionaire who bought Manchester City football club last year - said he intended to stay out of politics now he is back in the country.

But correspondents say there are fears his return could lead to political turmoil.

Opponents' fears

The 58-year-old billionaire businessman had tears in his eyes as he greeted his supporters, who were cheering and waving signs saying "We love Thaksin!"

Former Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra arrives at the Supreme Court in Bangkok, Thailand (28/02/2008)
September 2006: Military coup overthrows Thaksin
May 2007: Thaksin is banned from politics for five years, and his party is dissolved
July 2007: Thaksin becomes owner of Manchester City FC
December 2007: The PPP party, made up largely of Thaksin's followers, wins the general election
February 2008: Thaksin returns to Thailand

As he left the airport, he knelt and touched the ground with his forehead in a sign of respect.

Speaking to the BBC's Andrew Harding on the flight from Hong Kong, Mr Thaksin expressed optimism that he would "definitely" be cleared of corruption charges against him.

"I've done nothing wrong, why worry?" he said. "I have to restore my reputation which has been tarnished by the coup." Mr Thaksin's party, Thai Rak Thai, was outlawed following the military coup in September 2006, and he was personally banned from politics for five years.

When asked if he would be pulling the political strings in Thailand, Mr Thaksin told the BBC that he had retired from politics.

"I think in my life I have devoted a lot to my country and I think I have done a lot politically. No more politics," he said.

People there are not ready to believe corruption charges against him
Nava Raj Karki, Nepal
He insisted he wanted to live peacefully as a "normal citizen", with no desire to seek revenge against the military leaders who forced him out of power.

He said that he now wished to focus on his family and his football interests. He travelled to Thailand with two Manchester City players.

He is also likely to spend time trying to secure the release of $1600m (800m) from his frozen bank accounts.

Lying low?

But his opponents fear he has returned to Thailand to influence events from behind-the-scenes.

The People Power Party (PPP), which won elections in December last year, includes many of Mr Thaksin's followers, and critics say that the new prime minister, Samak Sundaravej, is just a proxy for Mr Thaksin himself.

Our correspondent says the former prime minister will need to lie low for a while now he is back in Thailand.

But it is unlikely he will be able to avoid the media spotlight, even if he wants to.

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