Ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra made an emotional return from exile on Thursday, preaching reconciliation and forgiveness in a country still polarized by his five years in elected office.

We can certainly have various opinions on various things, but we shall not be divided, the former telecoms tycoon told a packed news conference after arriving from Hong Kong.

It will be best for all of us to reduce our ego, and our prejudice, he said.

However, few Thais believe -- or want to believe -- the 58-year-old's mantra that he is returning only to clear himself of corruption charges and to spend quality time with the family after 18 months of exile enforced by a September 2006 coup.

The cheers and tears from the thousands who greeted him at Bangkok's new airport suggest the only elected Thai prime minister to complete a full term in office will not be allowed to stay out of the political fray for long -- even if he wanted to.

I love him so much, said 65-year-old Wilai Scott, who is married to a foreigner. I want Thaksin to be PM again.

The big question is whether he does indeed take a back seat, or whether he uses allies swept to power in a December election to go after the generals and the royalist elite who ousted him.

Already the People's Alliance for Democracy, which led the protest marches against Thaksin that culminated in the coup, has warned Thaksin not to use political clout to sway the corruption cases against him and his wife.

If we find they are trying to intervene in the judicial process directly or indirectly, we will not sit idly by, spokesman Suriyasai Katasila told reporters.

What seems certain is that the long-term battle for Thailand's future is far from over.

He will attract a lot of support from his fans and he will attract a lot of hostility from those who don't see his presence in Thailand as a benefit, said Christopher Bruton, director of Dataconsult.

We are going to see opposing groups and that alone is a highly disruptive factor, he said.


Within minutes of arriving, Thaksin surrendered himself to police, then, with tears in his eyes, left the terminal to kneel and place his forehead on the ground, his palms clasped together in a gesture of traditional respect for his motherland.

Thousands of supporters waving roses and We love Thaksin banners cheered their hero, who was then whisked away in a motorcade of limousines to the Supreme Court, where he was granted 8 million baht ($268,500) bail.

Thaksin, accused of presiding over rampant corruption and disrespecting revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, protested his innocence and insisted his political career was over.

I'll just voice concerns as a former prime minister, if I were to have any, he told reporters on the plane, a celebratory glass of champagne in his hands.

Bangkok's main stock index closed up 1.2 percent in thin trade as investors tried to assess the impact of his return. His every word is likely to come under intense scrutiny in coming weeks to divine his real intentions.

Signs of revenge would alarm investors worried about a repeat of the political confrontation that brought Thailand's government and capital city to a standstill for months in late 2005 and much of 2006.

The next question here is about political stability, whether the man can live up to his promises, said Saengtham Jaranachaikul, a senior analyst at Thanachart Securities.

If he does the opposite, then it might stir up those who dislike him to come out on the streets again, he said.