Thai 'Yellow Shirt' leaders charged for 2008 rally

AP News
Posted: Dec 27, 2012 4:40 AM

BANGKOK (AP) — Protest leaders in Thailand were indicted Thursday for storming the prime minister's office compound and sealing off Parliament during massive anti-government rallies in 2008 at the height of political turmoil, which left the country deeply divided to this day.

Prosecutors filed charges against Sondhi Limthongkul, Chamlong Srimuang and other leaders of the People's Alliance for Democracy, also known as the Yellow Shirts.

They face up to five years in prison for trespassing at Government House during an August 2008 rally, in which protesters stormed the compound and thousands occupied the grounds for weeks. They face an additional seven years in prison for blockading the Parliament in an October 2008 rally that left hundreds injured.

They also led a two-week seizure of Bangkok airports but have not yet been charged for that.

Mostly hailing from the urban elite, the Yellow Shirts' protests grew from their visceral hatred for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a telecommunications tycoon, whose democratically elected government was in power from 2001 until it was overthrown in a 2006 military coup. The Yellow Shirts claimed he was corrupt and that his proxies were running the country after he went into exile following the coup.

His sister, Yingluck, is now premier, which critics say has helped accelerate long-stalled legal cases against opponents of Thaksin, who says the corruption charges that he says are trumped up.

After a year of martial law following the 2006 coup, fresh elections were held that were again won by Thaksin's allies, triggering the Yellow Shirt protests, which took a heavy toll on the economy and tourism. The political turmoil continued for months until the pro-Yellow Shirt Democrat Party formed a government in December 2008 without an election. That brought to the streets tens of thousands of Thaksin supporters, mostly rural folk, who called themselves the Red Shirts.

They were evicted from central Bangkok in a military operation in April 2010 that left dozens of people dead.

The deadlock was finally broken when the Democrat Party stepped aside and called elections in July 2011 that Yingluck's party won. Thaksin remains in exile.