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BANGKOK: Thai leaders of “Red Shirt” opposition protests that rocked Bangkok in 2010 are set to stand trial tomorrow for terrorism, in a case that risks inflaming the kingdom’s political tensions.
The 24 accused, who include five current lawmakers, could in theory face the death penalty for their roles in the demonstrations, which at their height drew around 100,000 people, mostly supporters of ousted ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
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. Two foreign journalists were among those killed.
The Reds were demanding immediate elections, accusing the previous government of being undemocratic because it took office in 2008 through a parliamentary vote, after a court stripped Thaksin’s allies of power.
The Red Shirt movement leaders, most of whom surrendered to police after the government sent in armoured vehicles and troops firing live rounds, say they are confident they can prove their innocence.
“In many countries, those in power will find any accusations to support their use of force against the people,” said top Red Shirt Nattawut Saikuar, now deputy commerce minister in Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s cabinet.
He denied the protest leaders incited their followers to cause violence.
“I’m certain that the protesters did not need any speeches to provoke them. They saw more and more people injured and dying. The situation was already very heated,” Nattawut told a reporter in an interview.
After the May crackdown, protest leaders asked their supporters to disperse, but authorities accused hardcore demonstrators of setting fire to dozens of buildings, including a shopping mall and the stock exchange.
The leaders pleaded not guilty in August 2010 to terrorism charges. 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.
No government or military officials who oversaw the riots have been charged over the deaths, prompting accusations by the Red Shirts of double standards.