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For Thailand's Thaksin, a warm yet wary welcome

The ousted Thai prime minister, who returned Thursday, faces corruption charges and a divided nation.

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Exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra returned to Thailand Thursday for the first time since a September 2006 coup. The move was a show of strength, two months after his allies won parliamentary elections.

About 4,000 jubilant supporters greeted Mr. Thaksin at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport, where he emotionally knelt down and touched his forehead to the ground with his hands pressed together in a Buddhist wai, a prayer-like gesture. The former prime minister waved to the crowd before heading to the Supreme Court, which immediately granted him bail on two corruption charges, on the condition that he ask for permission before leaving the country.

"I left Thailand as a prime minister, but on my return, I am a suspect," Thaksin told reporters at a press conference later in the day.

"I want to prove myself and reclaim my reputation, which was destroyed in an unjustified and unfair manner," he added, vowing to stay away from politics.

The former leader,who had been splitting his time between London and Hong Kong, returns to a country still deeply polarized between the rural poor, who still see him as their champion, and Bangkok's richer citizens, who called for his ouster.

Though the victory of the pro-Thaksin People Power Party in December strengthened Thaksin's hand against the royalist generals who ousted him, analysts say he must not be seen as meddling with the judicial process and provoke more conflict.

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