Former Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was indicted for murder on Thursday in connection with a deadly military crackdown on mass opposition protests in Bangkok three years ago,prosecutors said.
The move comes as fresh political turmoil rocks the Thai capital,with protesters backed by Abhisit’s opposition party seeking to oust Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and rid the kingdom of the influence of her brother,deposed former leader Thaksin.
Some observers doubt British-born Abhisit will go to prison given his links to the Thai elite,and see the case as part of the country’s political brinkmanship.
Abhisit denied the charges and was freed after posting bail of USD 56,000,his lawyer Bandit Siripan said after the closed-door hearing.
“The pre-trial hearing is expected on March 24 next year,” he said.
Under Abhisit’s government,more than 90 people died and nearly 1,900 were wounded in street clashes in the capital in 2010 between mostly unarmed pro-Thaksin “Red Shirt” demonstrators and security forces firing live rounds.
A small group of Red Shirts shouted “Murderer!” as the Democrat Party leader arrived at court,without speaking to waiting media. There were about 10 Abhisit supporters outside the building,some holding bunches of flowers.
Thailand has seen several bouts of political turmoil since Thaksin was ousted in a military coup in 2006,with rival protests sometimes resulting in bloody unrest.
Prosecutors have accused Abhisit and his former deputy Suthep Thaugsuban of issuing orders that resulted in murder and attempted murder by the security forces.
Oxford-educated Abhisit-who was formally charged in December-insists he is innocent and has described the accusations against him as politically motivated.
Suthep,who did not attend today’s hearing,also faces a murder charge but had asked the court to postpone his hearing.
The former deputy premier is now spearheading the mass opposition protests against Yingluck,for which he faces an arrest warrant for insurrection.
Yingluck has called an early election-set for February 2-to try to calm the political turmoil. But Suthep has rejected the move,demanding the government step aside in favour of an unelected “people’s council”.
Yingluck’s ruling Puea Thai Party is widely expected to win the upcoming vote,bolstered by Thaksin’s enduring popularity.
He is loathed by many in the royalist elite and Bangkok middle class,but loved among the working classes and those in his rural northeastern heartland.
Parties allied to the tycoon have won every election since 2001,most recently with a landslide victory for Puea Thai in 2011.