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Asia-pacific

Thai court frees seven ‘Red Shirt’ leaders on bail

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-02-22

In a surprising ruling, a court in Thailand has released on bail several leaders of the “Red Shirt” movement who had been detained on terrorism charges after organising mass political protests last spring.

AP - Thailand’s Criminal Court freed on bail Tuesday seven leaders of the anti-government “Red Shirt” movement who were detained last year after leading mass protests that triggered a violent military crackdown.

The seven had been detained on terrorism charges since surrendering to the government May 19 after weeks of clashes in Bangkok between protesters and security forces in which more than 90 people were killed and 1,400 injured.

The surprise ruling came after Red Shirt allies had vowed to stage mass rallies next month against Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva if their latest request for bail was denied. The court had rejected four previous bids for bail.

The seven protest leaders, who were not in court, were expected to be released later in the day from Bangkok’s Remand Prison, where a crowd of supporters awaited them.

The three-judge panel set bails ranging from 600,000 baht (US$20,000) to 800,000 baht ($26,000). Bail for protest leader, Yoswarit Chooklom, who also faced charges of insulting the monarchy was set at 1.6 million baht ($52,000).

Without fully explaining the court’s reversal, a judge who read the ruling aloud said the court had “analyzed the facts” and agreed to “the temporary release” of all seven detained protest leaders. No trial date has been set.

“The defendants are not allowed to take any actions that could incite or instigate any violence or disorder among the people that could lead to unrest,” the judge said.

Among those to be freed were Nattawut Saikua and Weng Tojirakarn, both part of a core group of high-profile protest leaders that rallied crowds of thousands gathered in the Thai capital to demand Abhisit call new elections.

The protesters blockaded Bangkok’s commercial heart last April and May, setting up tent camps along major boulevards and shutting some of the city’s glitziest shopping malls and luxury hotels for weeks.

Many Red Shirt protesters were poor, rural supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup after being accused of corruption and disrespect for the country’s constitutional monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Their rallies highlighted a divide between Thailand’s rich, ruling, urban elite and the poor who had long silently complained of being overlooked by society.

Abhisit has tried but failed to implement a reconciliation policy to heal the social and economic rifts in Thai society.

His government is currently facing rival anti-government protests by smaller groups of Red Shirt supporters and the so-called “Yellow Shirts,” an ultra-nationalist group that has gathered outside the prime minister’s office since January to demand the Cabinet’s resignation.

The Cabinet on Tuesday voted to extend the use of the strict Internal Security Act, which it invoked on Feb. 8, giving the government and police special security powers to control protesters. The extension is good until March 25 in seven Bangkok districts that include the capital’s main shopping districts and sites where protesters have gathered.

Date created : 2011-02-22

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