Thaksin stirs the pot once again

Just to bring you up to speed on the recent antics of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, he was ousted in a 2006 military coup due to corruption and cronyism and was sentenced in absentia to two years in prison for a corrupt land deal. His assets in Thailand were frozen and he was later stripped of his Thai passport but, don't worry, he continues to be a glass-half-full kind of guy; he suavely globe-trots his way out of the grasp of authorities (allegedly holding six other passports). And, finally, his little princess made it into our list of worst-behaved daughters. Oh, and don't forget his latest business venture: a lotto service in Uganda, which he hopes will "benefit the people of Uganda." Nothing like gambling to really help people in need, eh Thaksin?

If you think all this means he's not so well liked back home, you would be wrong. In Thailand's impoverished and neglected northeast, Thaksin is seen as a champion of social equality, mostly due to his hands-on governing style, a low-interest lending program and low-cost healthcare program that he enacted as PM. In fact, his appeal has probably increased in the last few years.

And Thaksin hasn't let his money, or popularity, go to waste. He's been funneling money to supportive political parties and his grassroots supporters, called "The Reds", ever since he left Thailand. Now, as a reaction to the government's confiscation of $1.4 billion of his assets in late February, "The Reds" are planning to hold mass demonstrations in Bangkok, starting tomorrow. With an expected turnout anywhere between 100,000 and 600,000 the Thai authorities aren't messing around. They've already deployed 50,000 troops on the streets in order to stop things from getting out of hand.

Oh Thaksin, you just never cease to stir the pot.



New immunity for Berlusconi

Looks like Silvio Berlusconi's off the hook again. The upper chamber of the Italian Parliament passed a new law today allowing the prime minister  to excuse himself from attending court hearings on the grounds that his day-to-day obligations as premier constitute a "legitimate impediment" to doing so. The law will allow Berlusconi to suspend all pending court hearings for up to 18 months. As Nick Squires of the Telegraph observes, assuming Berlusconi isn't unexpectedly ousted, 18 months should be sufficiently long enough for him to ride out the statute of limitations on his current charges.  

Lauding Parliament's decision, Maurizio Gasparri, a senator from Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party, declared that the new law would "balance the relationship between the executive and judiciary" branches of government.

If you find that line tough to swallow, I suggest reading Portuguese novelist and Nobel Prize winner José Saramago's blistering attack on Berlusconi, which was originally published as an editorial titled "The Berlusconi Thing" in the Spanish newspaper El Pais (English translation available here).