World

Ex-Thai PM's children respond to online uproar

BANGKOK (AP) — The daughters of Thailand's self-exiled former leader Thaksin Shinawatra have criticized an online leak of flight details showing they flew first-class to London with eight suitcases. But they denied they were following their father's footsteps and fleeing the country.

Thai Airways said it was investigating if one of its employees committed the ethical breach, which came during Thailand's latest round of mass street protests against Thaksin. The former prime minister was ousted in a 2006 military coup but remains at the center of a long-running political crisis.

A photograph posted online of a computer check-in terminal shows the names, seats and ample baggage allowance of Thaksin's two daughters, Pintongta, 31, and Paetongtarn, 27. It was posted late Thursday, shortly after their flight left Bangkok.

By Friday, the photo was the buzz of Thai-language web forums, with some commentators criticizing the ethics of posting private flight details and others questioning if the Shinawatra sisters were fleeing the political heat at home.

Both sisters posted messages Friday saying they were in London and would return soon. "(I'm) not seeking asylum," Paetongtarn said on Instagram. "(I'm) here for six days to work." She added, "Haters will always make up stories to accuse us."

A Thai Airways official said the pair had checked more than 150 kilograms (330 pounds) of baggage and were seated in first class. He spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the airline's policy of not disclosing passenger information.

Older sister Pintongta posted a picture of herself strolling along a sidewalk in a Chanel scarf and carrying a Hermes' Birkin bag. "I'm here with my sister to work and will be back within a week," Pintongta said. "I guess there will be no more stories for the protesters to talk about? Give yourselves a break."

The recent protests were triggered by a proposed political amnesty bill that critics said was designed to bring Thaksin home. He fled the country in 2008 to escape a corruption conviction and is now based in Dubai but regularly travels in Europe and Asia.

The bill was backed by the government, currently led by Thaksin's sister, Yingluck Shinawatra. But it drew fierce opposition from Bangkok's middle class and was struck down by the Senate on Monday, apparently satisfying many protesters.

Thai Airways sought to deflect criticism of a possible ethical violation. "It could be that somebody else accessed the information. It might not be one of our employees," spokeswoman Theerasin Saengrungsri said. "We have to look into this."

It wouldn't be the first time that anti-Thaksin airline employees have broken the rules. A Thai flight attendant working for Cathay Pacific lost her job last December after posting a picture on Facebook of Paetongtarn Shinawatra's seat number and writing that she wanted to throw coffee in her face.

Associated Press writer Thanyarat Doksone contributed to this report.

Related Headlines