Red Shirts protest leaders go on trial
A terrorism trial against Thai leaders of the 2010 “Red Shirt” protests began on Friday, a day after the nation's former premier was charged over his role in the deadly unrest.
The 24 accused, who include five current lawmakers, could in theory face the death penalty in the case, which was delayed again on Thursday because of the absence of key witnesses.
All but one defendant was present at Bangkok Criminal Court on Friday, according to an AFP reporter at the court.
About 90 people were killed and nearly 1 900 were wounded in a series of street clashes between demonstrators and security forces, which culminated in a bloody military crackdown in May 2010. Two foreign journalists were among those killed.
The Red Shirt leaders, most of whom surrendered to police after the government sent in armoured vehicles and troops firing live rounds, have vowed to prove their innocence.
Key Red Shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan on Thursday told reporters at the court that the group would “fight the case to the end”.
“But people of every political group should be granted an amnesty,” he said.
Former premier Abhisit Vejjajiva, who was Thai prime minister during the anti-government rallies, and his then-deputy Suthep Thaugsuban were charged with murder on Thursday over the death of a taxi driver shot by soldiers during the violence.
They are the first officials to face court over Thailand's worst political violence in decades. The pair have denied the allegation.
The kingdom has been racked by sometimes explosive political divisions since a 2006 coup deposed then premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
The Red Shirts - mostly supporters of the ousted premier - 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.
The accused Red Shirt leaders pleaded not guilty in August 2010. Their trial is expected to last months or even years because hearings can only be held when parliament is not in session as sitting lawmakers have immunity. - AFP