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NEWS UPDATES 30 June 2010

Thaksin lawyer lobbies in Washington

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An attorney who represents Thailand's ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is seeking U.S., help to resolve the kingdom's turmoil as he tries to soften the image of the "Red Shirt" protest movement.

Noppadon Pattama, a former foreign minister, is on a mission to Washington that comes as a sharp challenge to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who has won US backing for his reconciliation plan and opposes outside mediation.

"We hope that the U.S. administration will be more engaged about the situation in Thailand. They can use diplomatic channels to encourage the government to look at our proposal," Noppadon, a legal adviser to Thaksin, told AFP in an interview Tuesday.

"It doesn't mean they interfere with Thai politics. You can give friendly advice to your friend -- it's just natural," he said.

"U.S.-Thai relations are very important and if your friend is weak or is divided, your friend may not fulfill the potential that it has."

Thaksin, a self-made tycoon turned prime minister, was deposed by the army in 2006. Thaksin lives in self-imposed exile to avoid prison on corruption charges he contends are politically motivated.

Thailand, a longstanding US ally, has since undergone persistent unrest.

Red Shirt protesters -- many of them rural Thais who support Thaksin's populist measures -- laid siege to central Bangkok this year in a bid to topple Abhisit.

The army dispersed them in May after negotiations broke down. A series of violent clashes and the final military assault left 90 people dead and nearly 1,900 injured.

In images broadcast around the world, symbols of Thailand's cosmopolitanism went up in flames, including the stock exchange and a major shopping center, parts of which burned to the ground.

Abhisit's government, while saying that many Red Shirts have legitimate grievances, charged that armed and Marxist elements were among the crowds.

Noppadon accused the government of misrepresenting the Red Shirts, saying: "I don't want the United States or the U.S. population to misunderstand that the Red Shirts are terrorists."

"They are just farmers, they are just democracy lovers, they are people who dislike double standards," Noppadon said.

Noppadon declined to specify whom he was meeting in Washington, saying it could lead to repercussions. Diplomats said he would meet with staff members at Congress.

His mission comes two weeks after Abhisit dispatched to Washington a special envoy, Kiat Sittheeamorn, who explained the government's reconciliation plan to President Barack Obama's administration and lawmakers.

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