Former Thai PM charged over Bangkok protests

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The Independent Online

Thailand's Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant against former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on terrorism charges related to the country's recent bloody protests.

Mr Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup, is accused by the government of fomenting and backing two-month-long protests by the so-called Red Shirts who seized areas of downtown Bangkok before being overcome by army troops last week.

His lawyer, 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.

Mr Thaksin, living in exile, is regarded as a hero by many Red Shirts.

Mr Thaksin, now based in Dubai, was earlier charged with corruption and abuse of power during his 2001-2006 tenure as prime minister.

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

Yesterday, opposition leaders moved to impeach current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva for his handling of the 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 Mr Abhisit was introduced by the opposition Pheu Thai Party which is allied with Mr Thaksin.

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

Members of the Pheu Thai allege that Mr 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 Mr Abhisit resign and call early elections. The Red Shirts want Mr 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 yesterday after the surrender of two more key figures. Another leader was expected to surrender today.

But the nation's deputy prime minister warned that the movement behind the protests is still a threat. Mr 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 November 14 but that plan fell through when Red Shirt leaders made more demands. Mr Abhisit now says elections will not be held until the threat of violence is completely quelled.