BANGKOK: Thailand's government accused Thaksin Shinawatra Monday of violating the revered monarchy after the fugitive former premier reportedly urged the reform of institutions close to the palace.
Thaksin, who was toppled in a 2006 coup, was quoted by British daily The Times as saying that King Bhumibol Adulyadej was above politics but "circles" around the monarchy were interfering with the running of the country.
"That's the problem in Thailand. The monarchy is not the problem. The monarchy is good for Thailand. Thailand needs to have a monarchy but it should not be abused or played by the palace circles," Thaksin was quoted as saying on the paper's website.
Asked if the "royal institution" needed reform, he said: "Yes, yes."
"I can assure you His Majesty is above (politics), but those in the circle have a network," he said.
"They want to get rid of me because they say I am trying to turn Thailand into a republic and topple the monarchy. That's not true. I have a very high respect for the monarchy and royal family."
Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya hit out Thaksin's comments, which came amid tensions over the ex-prime minister's impending visit to neighbouring Cambodia as the new economic adviser to the government in Phnom Penh.
Thaksin is living abroad to avoid a two-year jail term for corruption. The Times said he was interviewed in Dubai.
"I would like to say that Thaksin's interview violates the monarchy, which is the country's main institution. I wonder what the hidden agenda was that caused him to make this inappropriate move," Kasit told reporters.
"In his interview, there are several parts referring to his majesty the king, the crown prince and the monarchy and also refer to his majesty's role in politics," Kasit told reporters.
Insulting or defaming the royal family -- the crime of lese majeste -- is punishable by up to 15 years in jail in Thailand.
Thaksin said the article had misrepresented his words and had a misleading headline.
"The untrue report caused a misunderstanding among readers and Thais," he said in a statement issued by his supporters in Thailand.
"I never gave any interview referring to the monarchy but on the other hand during the interview, I protested that the monarchy is beyond politics and praised the monarchy," he said.
Thaksin's supporters have targeted the house of the king's main adviser, former general Prem Tinsulanonda, during several protests this year and accused Prem of orchestrating the coup.
Three people were arrested recently for spreading rumours about the health of the 81-year-old king, who has been in hospital for nearly two months with a lung infection and fever.
Cambodia said last week that it had appointed Thaksin as an adviser and that he would deliver a lecture on economics in Phnom Penh. Thailand and Cambodia have recalled their respective ambassadors over the dispute.