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Thailand denies $640,000 Blair fee

AFP-JIJI

Thailand has denied it will pay former British Prime Minister Tony Blair $640,000 to speak at an upcoming government-sponsored forum in Bangkok on bridging the kingdom’s festering political divides.

An opposition Democrat Party lawmaker recently alleged 20 million baht ($640,000) had been budgeted to pay Blair, a claim refuted by the government.

Several dignitaries will take part in the daylong “unity forum,” a Foreign Ministry official said Saturday, adding none “will receive any extra pay.”

Thailand will only “offer them air tickets, accommodation and transportation while they are here,” spokesman Manasavi Srisodapol added.

Nobel Peace Prize-winning Finnish former President Martti Ahtisaari, and Priscilla Hayner — an expert on truth and reconciliation commissions — will be among the guests, he said.

The one-day Sept. 2 forum is being convened to find a way through the political turmoil that has gripped the kingdom since a 2006 military coup toppled Thailand’s divisive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The kingdom has been beset by bitter political divisions since, heightened by a 2010 crackdown on Thaksin supporting “Red Shirt” protesters in Bangkok that left 90 people dead and around 1,900 injured.

A spokesman for Blair, who as prime minister was heavily criticized for backing the invasion of Iraq but praised for his role in a peace process in Northern Ireland, said he was “delighted” to accept the government invite to Thailand.

“This is being done on an entirely pro bono basis — there is no fee and there never was,” he added.