Thaksin hails 'signs of reconciliation'

Ousted Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra said Saturday Thailand could begin to heal its deep political rifts in an address to thousands of "Red Shirt" supporters in Cambodia.

Thaksin, a divisive figure in his homeland who lives abroad to avoid a jail term for corruption, was greeted with cheers in northwestern Siem Reap province, in the first major rally he has attended since being toppled from power in a military coup in 2006.

"There are signs of reconciliation. Everybody wants it... There are signs that I will be able to return home to stay with you," he said, adding that royal anniversaries this year make it an "auspicious time".

Up to 30,000 people had gathered at the site, according to Siem Reap deputy provincial governor Bun Tharith, although an AFP reporter at the scene said the crowd appeared closer to 10,000.

Supporters, who filed through x-ray machines to enter the arena, carried pictures of the former tycoon and waved banners that read: "We want Thaksin home".

Many had made the journey across the border in hundreds of cars and buses to see their hero, who lives in Dubai to avoid a two-year prison sentence that he contends is politically motivated.

Thaksin is much-loved by many poor Thais but hated by parts of the Bangkok-based elite in military, palace and bureaucratic circles who see him as a threat to the monarchy.

Mass Red Shirt protests in the Thai capital in 2010 descended into the kingdom's worst political violence in decades, with more than 90 people -- mostly civilians -- killed in a military crackdown.

Thaksin, whose sister became Thai prime minister in 2011, has appeared by video link at the Reds' mass rallies and he sent an address from neighbouring Laos on Wednesday to say he expects to set foot in Thailand again this year.

The businessman-turned-politician, who followed his speech with renditions of popular Thai songs, told the crown there had been four failed attempts on his life, but declined to give details, adding: "I survived, I will not die".

Phnom Penh put on a large security presence for the event in Siem Reap, best known as the gateway to Cambodia's famed temples, but denied there was any particular threat.

Cambodia and Thailand traded heavy arms fire over a disputed border in early 2011 under the previous Thai government, but ties have warmed significantly since Thaksin's sister Yingluck took power.

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