Ex-Thai PM and key Shinawatra ally in court over 2008 crackdown

Ex-Thai PM and key Shinawatra ally in court over 2008 crackdown

BANGKOK - A former Thai prime minister and key member of the embattled Shinawatra family pleaded not guilty Friday to criminal charges of abuse of power over a crackdown on a 2008 protest, the latest court case to ensnare the divisive clan.

Somchai Wongsawat - brother-in-law of deposed premiers Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra - was prime minister for 80 days but was turfed from office by a court after massive anti-government protests by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) commonly known as the 'Yellow Shirts.'

Somchai has been tipped for a possible comeback as leader of the battered Shinawatra-aligned Puea Thai party, which was swept aside by a military coup last May shortly after Yingluck was toppled by another court decision and banned from politics.

Two people died and scores were injured in October 2008 when police used tear gas to clear the anti-Shinawatra, royalist 'Yellow Shirt' protesters who had blockaded Government House to prevent Somchai entering.

Somchai and three other defendants, including another former prime minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, were charged in connection with the crackdown.

"All four defendants pleaded not guilty," the Supreme Court said in statement.

The court said the defendants must attend each hearing and banned them from travelling abroad.

They are next expected in court late June.

In response to the travel ban, Somchai - who has been bailed for US$280,000 (S$378,378) - told the court "I don't have money for an airfare".

On Thursday six Yellow Shirt leaders who led the 2008 protests were given two-year jail terms by another court for their roles in storming Government House.

They were all bailed pending appeal.

The ruling was the latest in a series of court cases targeting leaders on both sides of Thailand's febrile political divide, which has seen nearly a decade of disruptive and often deadly protests in Bangkok.

Thailand's ruling junta has vowed to bridge the kingdom's deep political schism but critics say its real motivation is to cut the Shinawatra family out of Thailand's political future.

Shinawatra family members or allies have won every election since 2001, despite two coups and the toppling of three premiers by the kingdom's courts.

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