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Thai PM says to push for Thaksin amnesty in 2 yrs

BANGKOK - New Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej said on Friday he would push for the lifting of the political ban on ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra and his top party officials in two years.

"They didn't do anything wrong," Samak said, referring to Thaksin and the 110 other senior members of his Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party barred from politics for five years for election fraud.

Thailand's Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej speaks during an interview at the People Power Party (PPP) headquarters in Bangkok February 8, 2008. (REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang)

Thaksin was removed in a September 2006 coup and now lives in exile in London and Hong Kong.

"So if we can give them amnesty, we should give," said Samak, who came to power as a self-confessed proxy for the still-exiled billionaire politician.

With a sympathetic administration in place in Bangkok, Thaksin looks likely to return to Thailand some time in May, although Samak said there was no question of the government trying to quash a corruption case filed against him and his wife.

"Thaksin must come back to face the court," the 72-year-old former Bangkok governor told foreign reporters two days after the official swearing in of a cabinet packed with Thaksin loyalists and their relatives.

"We must believe in the courts," he said.

The unashamedly right-wing Samak also vowed to resurrect Thaksin's 2003 "war on drugs", in which 2,500 alleged dealers were killed.

"It must be the same," Samak said of a campaign in which human rights groups accused Thaksin of giving police a licence to kill. Thaksin's administration said most of the deaths were the result of internecine drug turf wars.

Public concern about rising levels of narcotics abuse, especially in relatively poor rural areas, was a big issue in the Dec. 23 election in which Samak's People Power Party came within a whisker of an outright majority.

"Why would we let this happen in our country?" he said.

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