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Former Thai premier found guilty of corruption

Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was convicted of corruption Tuesday and sentenced to two years in prison, a ruling that may embolden anti-government protesters and prolong a stalemate that has paralyzed Thailand's government.

Thaksin, ousted by a 2006 coup, remains the country's most influential politician. He is adored in rural areas, where he built up a political base during his six years in power, but reviled by many of the educated elite in the cities, where his administration was seen as deeply corrupt.

His brother-in-law, Somchai Wongsawat, is the current prime minister and has been the target of demonstrations.

The verdict handed down Tuesday by a nine-member Supreme Court panel appeared to mark the first time a former Thai prime minister had been convicted of corruption for actions taken while in office.

Thaksin, 59, had earlier fled to Britain. Speaking by telephone from his home near London, he said the verdict was a continuation of the coup that ousted him two years ago.

It was unclear whether Thaksin would serve jail time. He also faces a string of other cases involving alleged corruption and abuse of power.

A prosecutor handling the case said officials were planning to ask the British government to extradite Thaksin.

The charges stemmed from allegations that Thaksin facilitated his wife's purchase of lucrative Bangkok real estate from a state agency in 2003, while he was prime minister.

Thaksin's lawyers had argued that the agency that sold the land was an independent state enterprise.

Pojaman Shinawatra, 51, who had fled to Britain with her husband, was acquitted, while Thaksin was convicted on conflict of interest charges.

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