Former Thai PM denies murder charge over protest deaths

BANGKOK Thu Dec 13, 2012 6:41am EST

Former Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva attends a news conference at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo March 2, 2012. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Former Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva attends a news conference at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo March 2, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Toru Hanai

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BANGKOK (Reuters) - Former Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva denied on Thursday a murder charge brought against him for his role in a bloody military crackdown on anti-government protesters in 2010.

About 100 people, including family members of some those who were killed during the crackdown, gathered at the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) in Bangkok, part of the Justice Ministry, as Abhisit arrived to meet investigators.

Some protesters were dressed in black and held signs saying "blood on your hands". Some shouted "civilian killer".

Prosecutors filed murder charges against opposition leader Abhisit and his former deputy prime minister, Suthep Thaugsuban, on December 6 under article 288 of the criminal code for allowing security forces to live ammunition that led to the death of civilians.

"I have denied the charge against me and have asked for clarification on some points," Abhisit told reporters as he left the DSI. Suthep also denied the charge, a lawyer said.

Thailand has been gripped by waves of violence in recent years between supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and their opponents, largely members of royalist groups who accuse Thaksin of trying to undermine King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Both sides have used violent protests to try to bring down governments they oppose.

In March 2010, thousands of supporters of Thaksin took to the streets of Bangkok to demand elections. They accused Abhisit of coming to power with the help of the military following a 2006 coup in which Thaksin was ousted.

While soldiers confronted the protesters, at some stages during the disturbances, mysterious black-clad gunmen mingled among the protesters and battled the troops.

Suthep was in charge of a crisis control center that authorized "live fire" zones. Troops forcibly dispersed the protesters who had occupied some city streets on May 19. In all, more than 90 people were killed over about five weeks of trouble.

Thaksin lives in Dubai to avoid a jail sentence handed down for abuse of power in 2008. He is hugely popular with many of Thailand's poor.

If found guilty Abhisit and Suthep could face the death penalty. But analysts say a trial will take years and the charges against them are politically motivated and unlikely to result in heavy sentences.

(Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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