Ex-Thai PM to be charged with murder

2012-12-13 11:02
Former Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva (C) arrives at a justice ministry building to be charged with murder over a civilian's death. (Christophe Archambault, AFP)

Former Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva (C) arrives at a justice ministry building to be charged with murder over a civilian's death. (Christophe Archambault, AFP)

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Bangkok - Former Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva arrived on Thursday at a justice ministry building to be charged with murder over a civilian's death during a crackdown on anti-government 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 a court over Thailand's worst political violence in decades.

Hundreds of riot police flanked the building, as about 20 supporters carrying roses and dozens of protesters holding pictures of those killed in the unrest watched the former leader arrive.

About 90 people were killed and nearly 1 900 wounded in a series of street clashes between "Red Shirt" demonstrators and security forces, which culminated in a deadly army operation in May 2010 to break up the protest.

The charge against Abhisit, who was prime minister at the time, 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.

Postponed

Abhisit dismissed the case against him as "political" and said his government had no choice but to take tough action. The rallies drew around 100 000 people at their height.

A separate terrorism case against 24 Red Shirt leaders including five current lawmakers for their part in the rallies was again postponed on Thursday after two witnesses failed to attend.

"The court has postponed the hearing until tomorrow [Friday]," a judge said, adding the court will issue an arrest warrant for one of the accused, deputy commerce minister Nattawut Saikur, if he is not present then.

Nattawut had said he would miss Thursday's court date because he had 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.

The Red Shirts - mostly supporters of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra - were demanding immediate elections in their 2010 protest.

'Not above the law'

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, Oxford-educated Abhisit said 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 [of life]. But it was the job of the government of that day to also restore order in the capital, in the country," he said.

The DSI said earlier on Thursday that after hearing the charges Abhisit and Suthep would be released without bail because they were prominent figures.

Tarit told reporters at DSI headquarters that it was "very awkward" for him to file the charges against the pair because of their position in society and since he himself had served on the official body that oversaw the crackdown in 2010.

- SAPA
Read more on:    yingluck shinawatra  |  thaksin shinawatra  |  abhisit vejjajiva  |  thailand
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