Two Thai ex-PMs ac­quit­ted of abus­ing power in protest

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

A Thai court ac­quit­ted two for­mer prime min­is­ters of abuse of power yes­ter­day in a case in­volv­ing the deadly dis­per­sal of an anti-gov­ern­ment protest in 2008. A di­vi­sion of the Supreme Court ac­quit­ted Som­chai Wong­sawat, his deputy, Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, and two for­mer po­lice of­fi­cials, say­ing they did not in­tend to en­dan­ger the demon­stra­tors by quelling what had turned into a vi­o­lent protest. Hun­dreds of peo­ple suf­fered in­juries dur­ing a pitched bat­tle that de­vel­oped when po­lice tried to clear away protesters who were block­ing the en­trance to the Par­lia­ment com­plex. They wanted to stop Som­chai, who was prime min­is­ter, from de­liv­er­ing his first pol­icy state­ment.

The protesters, who be­came known as the “Yel­low­shirts” for their garb honor­ing the Thai king, were seek­ing to bring down Som­chai’s gov­ern­ment, which they be­lieved served as a proxy for for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Thaksin Shi­nawa­tra, who was ousted in a 2006 mil­i­tary coup af­ter be­ing ac­cused of cor­rup­tion and dis­re­spect for the monar­chy. Two peo­ple died in the protest. At the time it ap­peared that many of the in­juries were caused by out-of-date tear gas can­is­ters that ex­ploded af­ter be­ing fired, but the court said blame could not be defini­tively as­signed.

Som­chai is the brother-in-law of Thaksin, whose 2006 ouster trig­gered some­times-vi­o­lent bat­tles for po­lit­i­cal power. Thaksin’s sup­port­ers see the var­i­ous crim­i­nal cases against him and his al­lies as at­tempts to erase his in­flu­ence from Thai po­lit­i­cal life. The de­fen­dants were ac­cused of ex­ceed­ing their author­ity in al­low­ing po­lice to use force against the protesters. The court, the Supreme Court’s Crim­i­nal Di­vi­sion for Po­lit­i­cal Of­fice Hold­ers, said the de­fen­dants “could not have an­tic­i­pated that tear gas would cause dan­ger to protesters” and had not in­tended for po­lice to at­tack protesters in a man­ner lead­ing to death.

Som­chai thanked the court af­ter its verdict and said he was grate­ful there was still jus­tice in the coun­try. Chavalit, an­other for­mer prime min­is­ter, did not com­ment. They could have faced up to 10 years in prison if they had been con­victed. The rul­ing, how­ever, an­gered a small group of protesters out­side the court, some of them par­tic­i­pants in the Oc­to­ber 2008 protest. One woman shouted “Let them all get ter­ri­ble dis­eases that can’t be cured and die painful deaths!” as Som­chai walked away.

Som­chai was one of two pro-Thaksin prime min­is­ters forced out of of­fice in 2008 by court de­ci­sions aided by the pres­sure of Yel­low­shirt protests. Protesters oc­cu­pied the prime min­is­ter’s of­fices for three months and Bangkok’s two air­ports for about two weeks. Thaksin’s sis­ter, Yingluck Shi­nawa­tra, was elected prime min­is­ter in 2011 and also was forced to step down in 2014 by a con­tro­ver­sial court rul­ing sup­ported by street protests against her. The army shortly af­ter­ward ousted her gov­ern­ment and re­mains in power to­day.

In a separate trial, Yingluck de­clared her in­no­cence on Tues­day and asked for “kind­ness” from the court that will de­cide whether she mis­han­dled a rice sub­sidy pro­gram that al­legedly lost bil­lions of dol­lars. Her bank ac­count has been frozen af­ter an ad­min­is­tra­tive court held her re­spon­si­ble for some of the losses. The verdict in Yingluck’s case is to be is­sued Aug 25. Thaksin has been in self-im­posed ex­ile since 2008 to es­cape a prison sen­tence on a con­flict of in­ter­est con­vic­tion.—AP

THAI­LAND: This hand­out from the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice taken and re­ceived shows Thai­land’s Prime Min­is­ter Prayut Chan-O-Cha us­ing a cer­e­mo­nial broom to help clean a street in a town in the province of Sakon Nakhon in north­east­ern Thai­land, af­ter it was hit by floods.—AFP

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