Thai PM walks out of news conference over question on ex-leader Thaksin

FILE PHOTO: Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha campaigns as PM candidate for the United Thai Nation Party ahead of a general election this year, in Bangkok

BANGKOK (Reuters) - The mere mention of Thailand's ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra prompted Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to walk out of a news conference this week, irked by talk of the exiled political heavyweight's long-touted return.

As a general in a royalist military that ousted the governments of both Thaksin in 2006 and his sister Yingluck in 2014, Prayuth's enmity with the billionaire Shinawatra family goes back more than a decade.

In an election due by May, Prayuth, 68, could face off against Thaksin's youngest daughter, Paetongtarn, who has garnered twice as much support, topping recent opinion polls on who should be Thailand's next premier.

"Don't talk about that person. I don't like it," Prayuth said on Wednesday cutting off a reporter's question about Thaksin, before walking away from the podium and out of the venue.

Former telecoms tycoon and Premier League football club owner Thaksin has been at the heart of 17 years of on-off tumult in Thailand, despite living in self-exile mostly in Dubai since 2008, to avoid a jail term that he maintains was engineered by rivals in the military and conservative establishment.

Thaksin, 73, has been promoting his daughter's candidacy and on Tuesday accused Prayuth of dragging his heels on dissolving parliament, while reiterating he would return to Thailand soon.

Paetongtarn, 36, last week declared her readiness to be prime minister with the Pheu Thai Party, which won most seats in the 2019 election but not enough to form a government.

The Shinawatras and their allies have won unprecedented majorities in five elections since 2001, campaigning on Thaksin's name and populist policies that earned a loyal following among working-class Thais.

Prayuth, who has joined a new party, is expected to seek the premiership again after eight years in charge as both a junta chief and head of a 17-party coalition.

(Reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor)