Thousands of Thai “Yellow Shirt” protesters rallied yesterday in Bangkok to denounce terrorism charges levied against members of their group who mounted a crippling airport blockade last year.
Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya is among the 36 supporters of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) who face the charge, which carries the death penalty, after the group seized Bangkok airports for nine days late last year.
Most of the accused were due to report to police yesterday, but refused on the grounds that the terrorism charge was excessive.
“No one turned himself in today as we are protesting against the police charges,” the PAD’s lawyer, Suwat Apaipak, told a crowd of thousands gathered outside the national Police Club on the northern outskirts of Bangkok.
“We had only hand-clappers — how could we seize aircraft at Suvarnabhumi? Our demonstration is not an act of terrorism,” Suwat said after submitting a written appeal against the charge.
The group have not protested other criminal charges, including illegal assembly and breach of aviation law, but insist the blockades of international Suvarnabhumi and domestic Don Mueang airports were within the law.
Kasit reported to police last week to hear the charges against him but also denies wrongdoing and has refused to resign, so far being backed by Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
Earlier this week, Kasit said he “joined the PAD bringing only my words and my pen,” and attended the airport rallies to exercise his constitutional rights.
The PAD is an ardent royalist group whose protests in 2006 helped topple former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
The group campaigned again last year to drive Thaksin’s allies from government, their protests peaking with the airport seizure, which left hundreds of thousands of travelers stranded and caused huge economic damage.
They abandoned the blockade after the Constitutional Court ordered the pro-Thaksin party from power in December, paving the way for Democrat Party leader Abhisit to become prime minister.