BANGKOK – Dozens of Thai royalist activists packed a Bangkok courtroom on Monday to face charges relating to their roles in 2008 rallies that paralyzed Thailand’s main airports, stranding thousands of tourists.
Almost 100 members of the nationalist People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) “Yellow Shirt” group appeared at the Thai Criminal Court over a wave of demonstrations against allies of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra almost five years ago.
The defendants, who face a variety of charges, were planning to plead not guilty according to lawyer Puangtip Boonsanong.
“They will deny all charges,”
Some observers were forced to stand at Monday’s hearing, as lawyers, journalists and about 20 Yellow Shirt supporters filled the room.
A total of 114 defendants face charges over the 2008 anti-government protests, which included the seizure of two airports, a blockade of parliament and the storming of Government House.
Key Yellow Shirts, including the group’s media mogul founder Sondhi Limthongkul, face terrorism charges over their alleged role in occupying the airports.
That siege by the Yellows, who boast support from Bangkok elites and elements in the military, was their last major show of force on the Thai capital’s streets, which frequently play host to the nation’s sharply divided politics.
Criminal investigations against the arch nationalist group have been sluggish, prompting resentment and claims of double standards by their rival “Red Shirts” – who are allied Thaksin.
Many leaders of the mainly rural, working class Reds were swiftly locked up on terrorism charges after their street protest in the heart of Bangkok in 2010 which came to a bloody end after an army crackdown.
Yellow Shirts are still a force to be reckoned with in Thailand’s colour-coded politics, helping to claim the scalps of three governments in under five years.
Having taken to the streets in the run up to Thaksin’s removal in a 2006 military coup, the Yellows heaped pressure on his allies in government in 2008.
In late November of that year, they blocked Don Mueang airport on the northern outskirts of Bangkok before moving to occupy the larger Suvarnabhumi Airport for a week.
The Yellow Shirts abandoned the blockade after a decision by Thailand’s Constitutional Court resulted in the dismissal of then prime minister Somchai Wongsawat, Thaksin’s brother-in-law, from office.