" Filling the airport with a carnival atmosphere, the crowd sang songs in praise of the billionaire politician who was toppled in a coup in September 2006, as he headed back to his country for the first time since the putsch.
Waiting outside the airport's VIP lounge, many wore T-shirts bearing Mr Thaksin's image and waved paper banners carrying messages that read ``We love you,'' ``We miss you,'' and ``Welcome home.''
About 10,000 Thai police have been deployed to boost security in the capital.
Mr Thaksin set off from Hong Kong today to defend himself against corruption charges. He said he did not want to return to politics and would report himself to authorities when he arrived.
Dressed in a black suit and white shirt, Mr Thaksin waited in Hong Kong airport's business lounge to board his flight.
“I don't expect there to be large crowd when I arrive,” he told reporters. “I want to go back as ordinary citizen.”
Since the September 2006 coup Mr Thaksin has lived mainly in Britain where he owns Manchester City football club, two of whose footballers were also on the plane.
His return comes with a new civilian government in office in Bangkok under Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, a close ally who was handpicked by Mr Thaksin to lead the People Power Party (PPP) to success in December elections.
As soon as he clears immigration, police have said they will escort him to the Supreme Court to hear charges from a corruption case accusing him of using his influence to win a property deal for his wife in 2003.
Mr Thaksin is expected to seek bail, which his wife Pojaman was granted in the same case last month.
He would then be escorted to the justice ministry's special investigations unit to hear charges over alleged fraudulent filings to securities regulators in 2003.
Mr Thaksin is also expected to visit the Grand Palace, to pay respects to the late sister of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, in what would be an important display for a man accused by the military of lacking loyalty to the throne.
“I am confident that I am innocent,” he told Thai media here Wednesday. “I have done nothing wrong. I am ready to prove it.”
“I am ready to work to serve the king, the queen, and every member of the royal family, in any way that I can,” Mr Thaksin said, adding he would focus his energies on his football club and charitable foundation.
The legal cases were brought by the military regime who toppled him.
The coup was welcomed by Bangkok's middle classes, who led months of street protests against Mr Thaksin in early 2006 accusing him of corruption and abuse of power.
But the military government left many coup supporters disillusioned as the generals mishandled the economy and failed to win convictions on the charges against Mr Thaksin.
Even with Mr Samak as prime minister and close Mr Thaksin allies at the highest levels of government, analysts say the court cases still pose a threat.
“The legal challenges are serious,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political analyst at Chulalongkorn University.
“He's taking a gamble here,” he said, although “it's much less (of a) risky gamble than before the election.”
The People's Alliance for Democracy, which spearheaded earlier anti-Mr Thaksin protests, has vowed to take to the streets against any perceived interference with the courts.
But its links with the unpopular military regime have weakened its support, and Mr Thitinan said they may struggle to gather a large following so soon after an election seen as reaffirming Mr Thaksin's popularity.
“This is a different ball game. Mr Thaksin has the upper hand,” he said."