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Thailand's Thaksin seeks business in Liberia
* Former Thai PM in Liberia, seeking business
* Looking into mining, agriculture and gas
* Liberia says wants him to invest, create jobs
By Alphonso Toweh
MONROVIA, April 24 (Reuters) - Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, living in self-imposed exile and facing two years jail at home on conflict of interest charges, was in Liberia this week scouting for business opportunities in Africa.
Thaksin, also briefly owner of Manchester City football club, has seen his living options reduced after Britain revoked his visa and the Thai government recently sought extradition agreements with Dubai and Hong Kong, where he has been living.
Although rich in iron ore, timber, diamonds and gold, Liberia, which was founded by freed slaves from the United States in the 19th century, is not an obvious choice as it still battles to overcome the effects of years of war that only ended in 2003.
"I have come to visit Liberia to explore business opportunities in the areas of mining, agriculture and gas exploration," Thaksin told journalists after meeting the West African country's vice president earlier this week.
"I prefer to do business in Liberia because of the good business climate and the move by the country in reconstruction process," he said late on Tuesday evening.
Liberia was embroiled in almost constant conflict from 1990-2003, with some 250,000 people killed in its civil war and an intertwined conflict in neighbouring Sierra Leone, which has resulted in Liberia's former President Charles Taylor facing charges of war crimes.
Investor confidence in the country was boosted by the 2005 election of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a former World Bank official who became Africa's first female head of state.
Embargos imposed during the war on timber and diamond exports have since been lifted, encouraging private investment. But the country is still highly dependent on aid and is struggling to tackle corruption.
"In the not too distant future, we will send a team to carry out feasibility studies on what would be a priority for us. We can begin with even a million dollars, depending on what we discover," Thaksin said.
The former prime minister's supporters back home have been embroiled in weeks of violent protests with the authorities in Bangkok although the current prime minister ended a 12-day state of emergency on Friday and sought to heal deep political rifts.
Thaksin spent two days in Liberia before leaving but the government made clear he would be welcome back.
"We want you to come and do business that will help create jobs for Liberians. We have a good business climate in Liberia," Vice President Joseph Boakai said. (Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Charles Dick)
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