By AMBIKA AHUJA / AP WRITER
BANGKOK — Thailand's fugitive former leader Thaksin Shinawatra now has a Nicaraguan passport, complicating efforts to extradite him as Thai authorities pressed ahead Thursday with a search for his supporters accused of leading violent riots in Bangkok.
The Nicaraguan government announced late Wednesday it had named Thaksin a "Nicaraguan ambassador on a special mission" to bring investment to the Central American country and issued him a passport in January.
The announcement came just hours after the Thai government said it had revoked Thaksin's personal passport, accusing him of stoking the unrest that paralyzed the Thai capital earlier this week.
Ousted in a 2006 coup, Thaksin has been on the run since he fled Thailand ahead of a corruption conviction last year. He has been spotted in Central America, Africa, London, Dubai and Hong Kong among other places. He recently said that several countries had offered him passports but did not specify them.
Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat said he could not confirm Thaksin's Nicaraguan passport but said authorities were trying to "make clear which other passports he is holding." He said he was not aware of any extradition treaty between Thailand and Nicaragua.
Thailand had already revoked Thaksin's diplomatic passport.
Meanwhile Thaksin 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.
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.
However, a state of emergency in Bangkok remained in place for a fifth day Thursday, but normalcy returned after the rioting earlier this week when Thaksin's supporters clashed with soldiers and burned empty buses at major intersections.
Two people were killed and 123 injuries in the violence.
Police were still searching for dozens of protest leaders, only three of whom were in custody. Bangkok's Criminal Court was deciding Thursday whether to grant the three bails or extend their detention.
A total of 13 arrest warrants were issued Tuesday against leaders of the Bangkok unrest, including one for Thaksin who addressed supporters regularly via video link and at one point called for a "revolution." The warrants were issued for inciting the public to break the law and causing a public disturbance, which carry prison terms of seven years and two years, respectively.
An additional 35 warrants were issued Wednesday for protesters allegedly behind two attacks on vehicles carrying Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and the storming of a weekend summit of Asian leaders in the seaside town of Pattaya. The break-in prompted Abhisit to abruptly cancel the summit and evacuate leaders by helicopter.
Bringing the protests to an end and rounding up its leaders may prove to be the easy part, analysts say. The harder task will be to restore the country's battered image abroad and heal internal divisions—which largely revolve around Thaksin.
The protests were only the latest in a long-simmering conflict—triggered by Thaksin's ouster—that has split many Thais into two groups.
Thaksin's "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 only 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?"