Thaksin warmly received in Korat
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Thaksin warmly received in Korat

Ex-PM makes first trip in 17 years to Isan's most populous province

Thaksin Shinawatra is greeted by supporters after arriving by private jet at the airport in Chalerm Phrakiat district of Nakhon Ratchasima on Saturday. (Photo: Prasit Tangprasert)
Thaksin Shinawatra is greeted by supporters after arriving by private jet at the airport in Chalerm Phrakiat district of Nakhon Ratchasima on Saturday. (Photo: Prasit Tangprasert)

Thaksin Shinawatra was warmly received when he arrived in Nakhon Ratchasima on Saturday for the first time in 17 years, with red-shirt supporters cheering and shouting “We love Thaksin” at the airport.

The private jet carrying the paroled former prime minister touched down at the Nakhon Ratchasima airport in Chalerm Phrakiat district at 11.40am.

He was accompanied by his daughter and Pheu Thai Party leader Paetongtarn Shinawatra, his son Panthongtae and key party figures. It was his first trip to the most populous province in the Northeast in 17 years.

Thaksin came to Korat to attend the cremation of Wichai Changlek, his loyal long-time driver, who died last year at age 73.

The former prime minister was greeted enthusiastically by a crowd of red-shirt members who thronged the airport to wait for him. Supporters wrapped pha khao ma, traditional Thai loincloths, around his waist, hugged him and took photos with him.

Shouts of “We love Thaksin”, “Welcome, our prime minister, you are in our hearts forever, we always love and have faith in you” and “Isan people welcome you” rang out repeatedly as Thaksin walked to a waiting vehicle. Some supporters even burst into tears when seeing him.

Thaksin bade his final farewell to Wichai at Wat Sangkha Chinaram on Saturday afternoon.

“People might wonder why I was so attached to Pok (Wichai’s nickname),” Thaksin told those gathered at the temple. “He was not just my driver but the person who spent the most time with me in a small space.

“I worked hard from the time I was a businessman until I became prime minister. I left home in the morning and returned in the morning for more than 40 years.”

A driver’s job involves a lot of waiting, and ultimately Wichai tried to wait for Thaksin to return, but he succumbed to cancer in July last year, just a month before his longtime boss and friend returned to Thailand.

Thaksin was also scheduled to pay respects to the Thao Suranaree statue in the city and meet supporters there in the evening. He will return to Bangkok later in the day.

Police from the Chalerm Phrakiat, Muang, Jor Hor, Nong Sung, Khong and Sida stations were deployed to monitor crowds and traffic along the route taken by the former PM.

Thaksin has maintained a busy travel schedule since he was released on parole in February, after serving half of his one-year sentence for abuse of power and conflict of interest while in office from 2001-06. He did not spend a single night behind bars but was accommodated at the Police General Hospital in Bangkok.

He has visited Chiang Mai and Phuket among other places. He has been seen frequently in the company of other politicians, even though one of the conditions of his parole is that he must not engage in “political” activity.

Among the notable figures who showed up on Saturday to greet Thaksin were Defence Minister Sutin Klungsang, Digital Economy and Society Minister Prasert Jantararuangtong, Culture Minister Sudawan Wangsuphakijkosol and other local politicians. Nakhon Ratchasima governor Chaiwat Chuenkosum was on hand as well.

Red-shirt members hold a placard reading “Red-shirts and Korat people welcome prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra with respect and faith” at the airport in Nakhon Ratchasima on Saturday. For some other fans, orange shirts (below), a colour associated with the Move Forward Party, were the fashion choice of the day. (Photos: Prasit Tangprasert)

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