BANGKOK, Thailand &

Supporters danced, beat drums and sang as deposed Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra returned today from 17 months in exile to face corruption charges, vowing to restore his reputation following his ouster in a coup.




The 58-year-old billionaire politician was quickly detained after his arrival at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport aboard a Thai Airways flight from Hong Kong.




Thai authorities took him to court where he was ordered to post $267,000 in bail pending a hearing on March 12.




Thaksin was deposed in a September 2006 coup and had lived in exile, based in London. He had expected to face arrest after arriving on charges of graft and abuse of power during his 2001-2006 time in office.




His return was seen as a test of the country's political stability, with critics warning that the populist billionaire's homecoming could plunge the country into renewed crisis.




Thaksin had tears in his eyes as he emerged to face supporters. He knelt and touched the ground with his forehead, hands clasped together in the Thai greeting.




Roga Kantapura, 33, who owns a car dealership in Bangkok, called Thaksin a "hero, a real hero" devoted to the poor and the country.




"This guy could eat gold for dinner, diamonds for breakfast, he has so much money he doesn't care about money," he said.




After posting bail, Thaksin proceeded to the Attorney General's Office where he paid $33,530 in bail on another set of charges. In that case, he and his wife are accused of concealing assets, said the office's spokesman Thanatip Moonpruk.




A hearing on whether Thaksin would be indicted was set for April 3.




Thaksin has said he is innocent of the charges against him, alleging that they were politically motivated.




While he could face up to 15 years in prison, Thaksin's return was a triumphant re-entry to center stage of Thai politics despite 17 months in exile during which the country's most powerful institutions, including the military, tried to eradicate his legacy and keep him at bay.




Although he has pledged to stay out of politics, his critics don't believe him and say he already has been exerting influence from behind the scenes.




Just hours after arriving, Finance Minister Surapong Suebwonglee said that government would consult Thaksin, who is legally banned from all political activity for five years, for economic advice.




"We can't appoint him to any official position, but we'll ask him for advice on the economy," Surapong told reporters.




Thaksin said at a news conference at a luxury hotel, where he was flanked by family members, that he no longer wants to be involved in politics. "I want to live peacefully with my family and die in this motherland," he said.




Thaksin said he did not return to Thailand after the coup to allow for healing in the country. He said following the recent general election and return to democracy, "I have to come back to restore my reputation and fight for justice in court."




Thaksin returns home several weeks after a government sympathetic to him replaced a military-appointed interim regime.




The People's Power Party, which is packed with Thaksin allies, won Dec. 23 general elections and now leads a six-party coalition government. Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, who heads PPP, won widespread support by campaigning as Thaksin's proxy and pledging to clear his name.




Thaksin and his wife, Pojaman, face corruption and conflict of interest charges in connection with her purchase of prime Bangkok real estate from a state agency in 2003, while he was prime minister. They are accused of concealing ownership of shares in SC Asset, the family's real estate holding company. Pojaman returned to Thailand in January and was released on bail pending trial.




Thaksin, a former telecommunications magnate, also faces separate charges of concealing assets.




Speaking to journalists in Hong Kong on Wednesday, Thaksin called the charges against him "unjust, unfair allegations" that were "cooked up by my political enemies."




The forces that helped unseat Thaksin &

the military, Bangkok's educated middle class and the country's elite, including people associated with the country's monarchy &

tried to erase his political legacy.




"Thaksin will plunge the country into a greater crisis that people will not be able to tolerate any longer," said former Bangkok governor and one-time Thaksin ally Chamlong Srimuang.