Thousands of Thai ‘Yellow Shirts’ Protest Terrorism Charges

BANGKOK ~ Thousands of Thai “Yellow Shirt” protesters rallied on Thursday in Bangkok to denounce terrorism charges levied against members of their group who mounted a crippling airport blockade last year.

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya is among the 36 supporters of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) who face the charge, which carries the death penalty, after the group seized Bangkok airports for nine days in late 2008.

Most of the accused were due to report to police Thursday but refused on the grounds that the terrorism charge was excessive.

“No one turned himself in today as we are protesting against the police charges,” the PAD’s lawyer Suwat Apaipak told a crowd gathered outside the national Police Club on the northern outskirts of Bangkok.

“We had only hand-clappers – how could we seize aircraft at Suvarnabhumi? Our demonstration is not an act of terrorism,” Suwat added after submitting a written appeal against the charge.

Key PAD leader Chamlong Srimuang told the crowd, estimated at “a few thousand” by police, that the terrorism charge was “not only exaggerated but it’s false.”

He said that although the airport protestors were armed with wooden sticks, metal rods, baseball bats and golf clubs, the implements could not be considered as weapons.

The group has not protested against other criminal charges, including illegal assembly and breach of aviation law, but insists the blockades of international Suvarnabhumi and domestic Don Mueang airports were within the law.

Foreign Minister Kasit reported to police last week to hear the charges against him but also denies wrongdoing and has refused to resign, so far being backed by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Earlier this week Kasit said he “joined the PAD bringing only my words and my pen,” and attended the airport rallies to exercise his constitutional rights.

The PAD is an ardent royalist group backed by the country’s establishment, whose protests in 2006 helped topple then-premier Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted in a military coup.

The group campaigned again last year to drive Thaksin’s allies from government, their protests peaking with the airport seizure, which left hundreds of thousands of travellers stranded and caused huge economic damage.

They abandoned the blockade after the Constitutional Court ordered the pro-Thaksin party from power in December, paving the way for Democrat Party leader Abhisit to become prime minister.

Last October, treason charges against Chamlong and another PAD leader were dropped following further PAD protests in Bangkok.

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