Ex-Thai PM to hear murder charge over protest death

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BANGKOK: Thailand’s former premier Abhisit Vejjajiva is set to be charged with murder on Thursday over the death of a civilian during a military crackdown on anti-government “Red Shirt” rallies two years ago.

 

Abhisit, along with his then deputy Suthep Thaugsuban, will be formally  charged at Bangkok’s Department of Special Investigation (DSI), making them the  first officials to face court over Thailand’s worst political violence in  decades.
 
About 90 people were killed and nearly 1,900 wounded in a series of street  clashes between demonstrators and security forces, which culminated in a deadly  army operation to break up the protest in May 2010.
 
The charge against Abhisit, who was prime minister at the time of the  unrest, relates to the fatal shooting of taxi driver Phan Kamkong.
 
DSI chief Tarit Pengdith announced the move last Thursday and said it was  prompted by a court’s ruling in September that Phan was shot by troops — the  first completed inquest into the bloodshed.
 
Abhisit dismissed the case against him as “political” and said his  government had no choice but to take tough action.
 
A terrorism case against 24 Red Shirt leaders, including five current  lawmakers, is also set to begin on Thursday over their part in the rallies,  which drew around 100,000 people at their height.
 
One of the accused, deputy commerce minister Nattawut Saikur, on Wednesday  told AFP that he would not attend the hearing because he was required to  accompany Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on an official visit.
 
The trial against the Red Shirt leaders, who pleaded not guilty in August  2010, has been repeatedly postponed.
 
Sitting lawmakers have immunity so hearings can only be held when  parliament is not in session, which is expected to further prolong the legal  process.
 
The Red Shirts — mostly supporters of ousted Thai premier Thaksin  Shinawatra — were demanding immediate elections in their 2010 protest.
 
They accused Abhisit’s government of being undemocratic because it took  office in 2008 through a parliamentary vote after a court stripped Thaksin’s  allies of power.
 
Polls in 2011 brought Thaksin’s Red Shirt-backed Puea Thai party to power  with his sister Yingluck as premier, sweeping Abhisit into opposition.
 
In an interview before the charge against him was announced last month,  Oxford-educated Abhisit told AFP that he was “not above the law” and would  insist on his innocence in any prosecution.
 
“I’ve expressed my regret but I think a lot of people understand how much  effort I put in to avoid losses. But it was the job of the government of that  day to also restore order in the capital, in the country,” he said. -- AFP

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