Rights group says Thaksin unfit to own Man City

BANGKOK Wed Aug 1, 2007 5:30pm BST

Thailand's former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra gestures during a news conference in Hong Kong July 7, 2007. Shinawatra is unfit to own an English football club because of ''serious human rights abuses'' under his leadership, Human Rights Watch said. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Thailand's former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra gestures during a news conference in Hong Kong July 7, 2007. Shinawatra is unfit to own an English football club because of ''serious human rights abuses'' under his leadership, Human Rights Watch said.

Credit: Reuters/Bobby Yip

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BANGKOK (Reuters) - Ousted Thai Prime Minister and new Manchester City proprietor Thaksin Shinawatra is unfit to own an English football club because of "serious human rights abuses" under his leadership, Human Rights Watch said.

In a July 30 letter to English soccer chiefs, the New York-based watchdog said numerous extrajudicial executions, abductions and disappearances happened during Thaksin's six years in office, which ended with a military coup in September 2006.

In a response, the English Premier League said it took such allegations very seriously.

However, its "fit and proper" test for club owners only barred people who had been convicted of offences, chief executive Richard Scudamore said.

"You can be assured that we will always operate within the law and will always take into account any evidence as verified by the appropriate legal process," Scudamore said.

The generals who ousted Thaksin cited "rampant corruption" as a primary reason for launching Thailand's 18th coup in 75 years of on-off democracy.

One year later, they have frozen more than $1.5 billion of the former telecoms tycoon's assets in Thai bank accounts and Thaksin has been summonsed to Bangkok's Supreme Court this month to hear corruption charges.

However, given the complexities of Thailand's byzantine legal system, a conviction would probably be at least two years away.

Thaksin's family cemented their control of Manchester City last month, when they took ownership of 75 percent of the shares in the struggling club.

Thaksin, who has been living in exile since the coup, has said his 81 million pound ($163.8 million) takeover would help improve Thai soccer and bring the good times back to a club which last tasted major success 31 years ago.

However, analysts call the move a publicity stunt to boost his image among the soccer-obsessed Thai masses, whose votes gave Thaksin unprecedented landslide election victories in 2001 and 2005.

Much of Human Rights Watch's criticism stemmed from Thaksin's 2003 "war on drugs" in which the group claims around 2,500 people were killed, and the heavy-handed approach Thai security forces took in battling a bloody separatist insurgency in the Muslim-majority far south.

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