Bangkok: Former Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was indicted for murder in connection with a deadly military crackdown on mass opposition protests in Bangkok three years ago.
Under Abhisit’s government, more than 90 people died and nearly 1,900 were wounded in street clashes in the capital in 2010 between mostly unarmed pro-Thaksin “Red Shirt” demonstrators and security forces firing live rounds.
A small group of Red Shirts shouted “Murderer!” as the Democrat Party leader arrived at court, without speaking to waiting media.
There were about 10 Abhisit supporters outside the building, some holding bunches of flowers.
Thailand has seen several bouts of political turmoil since Thaksin was ousted in a military coup in 2006, with rival protests sometimes resulting in bloody unrest.
Prosecutors have accused Abhisit and his former deputy Suthep Thaugsuban of issuing orders that resulted in murder and attempted murder by the security forces.
Some observers doubt British-born Abhisit will go to prison given his links to the Thai elite, and see the case as part of the country’s political brinksmanship.
Suthep, who did not attend Thursday’s hearing, also faces a murder charge but had asked the court to postpone his hearing.
The former deputy premier is now spearheading the mass opposition protests against Yingluck, for which he faces an arrest warrant for insurrection.
Yingluck’s ruling Puea Thai Party is widely expected to win the upcoming vote, bolstered by Thaksin’s enduring popularity.
He is loathed by many in the royalist elite and Bangkok middle class, but loved among the working classes and those in his rural northeastern heartland.
The opposition Democrats — whose MPs resigned en masse Sunday because they could not achieve anything in parliament — have not won an elected majority in about two decades.
Abhisit’s party says it has not yet decided whether to take part in the upcoming election.
The political conflict broadly pits a Bangkok-based middle class and royalist elite backed by the military against rural and working-class voters loyal to Thaksin, who lives in self-exile in Dubai.
Tensions remain high after several days of street clashes last week when police used tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets against rock-throwing demonstrators.
In the 2010 protests, the Red Shirts were demanding immediate elections, saying Abhisit’s government took office undemocratically in 2008 through a parliamentary vote after a court stripped Thaksin’s allies of power.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators occupied parts of central Bangkok for weeks before the army ended the standoff.
In December 2012 the trial began of 24 Red Shirt leaders on terrorism charges related to their roles in the violence.