Thai PM could face murder charges over protest deaths: Lawyer

AFP , Tuesday 4 Mar 2014

 Yingluck Shinawatra
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra talks to Reuters journalists during an interview at the Government House in Bangkok 1 June, 2012. (Photo:Reuters)

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra could face murder charges after relatives of two anti-government protesters who died following clashes with police filed a complaint with a criminal court, a lawyer said Tuesday.

The protesters were among six people -- including two policemen -- who died after an outbreak of violence on February 18, which saw barrages of gunfire and at least one grenade thrown at police in Bangkok's historic heart as officers tried to clear a protest site near Government House.

Under Thai law the court will now have to decide whether the complaints are strong enough to warrant trial, lawyer Chaiwat Sittisuksakul told AFP.

The broad daylight bloodshed, just yards from the city's backpacker zone, was the deadliest episode in four-months of protests aimed at ousting Yingluck and her government.

A government spokeswoman said authorities used only riot shields, batons and rubber bullets during the action.

The murder complaint was also lodged against five other people, Chaiwat added, including Labour Minister Chalerm Yubamrung -- who Yingluck appointed to oversee the emergency response to the ongoing rallies --, the national police chief and other senior law enforcement officers.

"The court has set a preliminary examination where we will present evidence to prove there are grounds for the accused to go on trial," he said.

Both police and protesters have denied using real bullets, although rights groups accuse both sides of using live rounds in the clash.

"The government is sorry for the loss that happened. The violence did not come from the official side and we are ready to prove it," said deputy government spokeswoman Sunisa Lertpakawat.

"We are confident that we followed all rules and laws."

Twenty-three people -- including four children -- have died in political violence since the street movement began at the end of October, fuelling fears of a wider civil conflict.

The kingdom has been bitterly split since a military coup ousted Yingluck's brother Thaksin Shinawatra as prime minister in 2006.

The current unrest is the worst since Thaksin-allied Red Shirt protests against a Democrat-led government in 2010 sparked clashes and a bloody military crackdown that left more than 90 people dead.

Then Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and the firebrand leader of the current protests Suthep Thaugsuban face a murder trial over the crackdown, at an unspecified death.

On Friday anti-government protesters ended a self-proclaimed "shutdown" of the capital, after a rise in the number of attacks linked to the rallies including a grenade attack that killed two children in a busy Bangkok shopping street.

They have instead occupied a park in the city's commercial centre.

Yingluck already faces several legal challenges, including a charge of negligence brought by the nation's anti-graft body linked to a troubled rice subsidy scheme which was her government's flagship policy.


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