By JOHN HEILPRIN / AP WRITER
NEW YORK—Thailand's top diplomat on Tuesday linked exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to last week's violent attack on a prominent Thai protest leader.
In a speech to the Asia Society in New York, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya accused Thaksin of playing a role in Friday's shooting of Sondhi Limthongkul. Sondhi was the leader of a movement that helped topple Thaksin's goverment in 2006 and paralyzed the capital last year.
Sondhi, whose "yellow shirt" movement helped install the current government, "was supposed to have lunch with me at noon, but he was shot before. But I think he is recovering quite well," Kasit said. "So how did this turn into this situation where politicians cannot move along quite freely?"
Kasit, answering his own question, said that "it's been survival for a few of us. Thaksin failed on the populist movement and now I think he has resorted to some sort of assassination attempt."
He did not elaborate or provide any evidence. But he made clear he believed that he and four other ministers in Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's cabinet are also targets.
"I have been feeling I have been in captivity for the past few weeks," Kasit said. "In the last several weeks I am surrounded by several fully armed marines."
If there is "fighting to the death," he added, then "several of us would go to the ashes."
Sondhi was shot and wounded as he was being driven to work before dawn.
At least two men in a pickup truck ambushed his car and opened fire with an M-16 and an AK-47, first aiming to shoot out the tires and then spraying the vehicle with bullets, police said. Sondhi's driver was also wounded.
The shooting occurred just days after troops cracked down on rioting protesters from the rival, anti-government "red shirt" movement.
"If there were to be any one death caused by the security forces, I think Thailand is a situation that would turn itself into a civil war," Kasit explained.
Thailand was destabilized last year by months of protests by both supporters and opponents of Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup for alleged corruption and abuse of power.
Sondhi's People's Alliance for Democracy staged protests most of last year to demand that allies of Thaksin resign from government. His supporters come mainly from the middle class and educated elite of Thai society, and include royalists, academics and retired military.
Abhisit's government took control after a court ruled that the previous pro-Thaksin ruling party was guilty of election fraud. Critics say the court ruling and Abhisit's appointment followed pressure from the military and other unelected groups.
Kasit, 64, is a career diplomat who graduated from Georgetown University and served as ambassador to the US, Japan, Germany, Indonesia and the former Soviet Union.
But he is one of the most unpopular ministers in Thailand's four-month-old government, with many people calling for his resignation.
Opposition members accuse him of being unfit to serve in government because he supported street demonstrations that culminated in the seizure of Bangkok's two airports.
Kasit defended the government against the deepening turmoil and protests in Thailand.
"There must not be any sort of protests in the manner that could lead to violent means," Kasit said. But, he added, "There is no point in pretending that things are normal."