Ex-prime minister charged with terrorism related to recent Bangkok protests

By Kinan Suchaovanich, AP
Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ex-prime minister charged with terrorism

BANGKOK — A Thai court ordered an arrest warrant Tuesday for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on terrorism charges, accusing the fugitive leader of fomenting two months of unrest in Bangkok that left 88 people dead.

Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup and later fled abroad following a corruption conviction, has been accused by the government of being a key force behind protests by the so-called Red Shirts who seized areas of downtown Bangkok before being overcome by army troops last week.

Details of the charges were being read out at the Criminal Court, a day after testimony by the Department of Special Investigations into Thaksin’s alleged involvement in the protests.

Shortly after the court announced its decision, Thaksin’s lawyer, the London-based Robert Amsterdam, said the government “has perverted justice through the laying of a charge that violates logic, law and any claim of hopes for reconciliation.”

At least 88 people — mostly Red Shirts who were shot — died in protest-related violence.

Thaksin, now based in Dubai, is regarded as a hero by many Red Shirts, mostly rural and urban poor who benefited from his populist policies. He was earlier charged with corruption and abuse of power during his 2001-2006 tenure as prime minister.

The demonstrations have deepened already wide rifts in Thai society and most analysts expect further political conflict and possibly renewed violence.

On Monday, opposition leaders moved to impeach the current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva for his handling of rioting, and an army official said the capital would remain under curfew for another week as a precaution against further unrest.

The impeachment measure and a move to censure top Cabinet officials was expected to be easily defeated.

“The purpose of the curfew is to separate the terrorists from the public,” said army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd. He said the late hours of the curfew would not cause significant disturbances to the public.

Opposition whip Wittaya Buranasiri said the motion to impeach Abhisit was introduced by the opposition Pheu Thai Party who are allied with Thaksin.

It also sought to censure several of his top Cabinet members.

Members of the Pheu Thai allege Abhisit and his deputy prime minister abused their power in using force in their crackdown on the protests.

The Red Shirt movement, which swept into Bangkok in March, demanded that Abhisit resign and call early elections. The Red Shirts want Abhisit out because they claim he came to power illegitimately with the help of back-room deals and military pressure.

All but one of the top Red Shirt leadership were in custody Monday after the surrender of two more key figures. Another leader was expected to surrender on Tuesday.

But the nation’s deputy prime minister warned the movement behind the protests is still a threat. Abhisit has also accused Red Shirt followers of planning further protests and violence.

Hoping to appease the protesters, he earlier this month offered to hold elections on Nov. 14 but that plan fell through when Red Shirt leaders made more demands. Abhisit now says elections will not be held until the threat of violence is completely quelled.

Associated Press writers Eric Talmadge and Denis Gray contributed to this report.

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