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Thailand court acquits 24 Red Shirt leaders over 2010 protests

The 2010 protests saw 91 people killed in which majority of them were unarmed civilians [File: Sakchai Lalit/AP]

A court in Thailand has dismissed terrorism charges against 24 leaders of an extended street protest in 2010 that saw key areas of central Bangkok closed off and engulfed in violence.

The Bangkok Criminal Court ruled on Wednesday that the two-month protest by the Red Shirt supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, during which 91 people were killed and thousands were hurt, was “a political fight, not terrorism”. The defendants were acquitted of all charges.

The case was brought by state prosecutors and more than 40 business owners affected by the Red Shirts’ seizure of Bangkok’s central shopping and business district.

The case involved charges of terrorism, criminal association, using force to damage government property, inciting unrest, possession of arms, obstruction of officials through intimidation and gathering more than 10 people to cause chaos.

The casualties included soldiers as well as protesters.

Unidentified armed men in black, whose weapons included grenade launchers, acted as a mysterious armed auxiliary to the protesters, but it appeared that most of the dead were unarmed civilians.

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Years of conflict

Thaksin was ousted by a military coup in 2006 after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. His allies won a 2007 election, but parliamentary maneuvering installed the rival Democrat Party in power in 2008, inspiring the 2010 protest that called for Democrat Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to step down.

Thaksin’s ouster set off years of sometimes violent conflict between his supporters and opponents, who engaged in aggressive street protests against governments led by the other’s faction.

Can Thailand ever be a democracy?

During three months of street protests in 2008, Thaksin’s foes – known as the Yellow Shirts – occupied the prime minister’s offices, as well as Bangkok’s international airport for about a week.

In July, the criminal court dismissed charges of insurrection against four key members of an anti-Thaksin group, the People’s Democratic Reform Committee.

The group organised large, aggressive street protests in late 2013 that a government led by Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, could not control.

It led to widespread chaos, and served as a reason for the military to stage a 2014 takeover.

An election in March this year brought a pro-military party to power.