Former Thai PM Abhisit Vejjajiva and deputy may face impeachment over 2010 crackdown

Former prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva (above) and his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban may face "abuse of power" charges for overseeing the crackdown which also left hundreds injured. -- PHOTO: ST FILE 
Former prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva (above) and his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban may face "abuse of power" charges for overseeing the crackdown which also left hundreds injured. -- PHOTO: ST FILE 

BANGKOK (AFP) - Two prominent pro-establishment Thai politicians should face impeachment for their role in a 2010 military crackdown that killed more than 90 anti-government protesters, the country's powerful graft watchdog said on Tuesday.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission said former prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban should face "abuse of power" charges for overseeing the crackdown which also left hundreds injured.

If found guilty by the country's junta-stacked parliament, they could be banned from politics for five years.

Scores of "Red Shirt" demonstrators loyal to ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra were killed in April and May 2010 - the culmination of months of street protests against Abhisit's administration and one of the bloodiest chapters in Thailand's recent turbulent history.

The kingdom has been battered by a decade-long political crisis that broadly pits Bangkok's middle class and royalist elites, backed by parts of the military, against rural and working-class voters loyal to Thaksin and his sister Yingluck, both of whom were ousted from power during their tenures as prime minister.

Abhisit and Suthep belong firmly in the former category - Suthep went on to become a key leader in last year's street protests that toppled Yingluck and led to the military's May takeover.

Both men have always denied wrongdoing over the 2010 crackdown, saying troops were forced to confront armed protesters.

But opponents, academics and human rights investigators say scores of unarmed Red Shirts and bystanders were cut down by soldiers' bullets, including medics and two foreign journalists.

Vicha Mahakhun, a spokesman and member of the anti-corruption commission, told reporters that a fact-finding committee within the commission had decided "innocent people" were among those killed in the violence.

"It (the crackdown) was an abuse of power which can lead to impeachment," he said, adding that the committee had unanimously agreed to charge Abhisit and Suthep.

The charges are the first step in the impeachment process, and are not criminal accusations.

Last August, a court dismissed murder charges against the two men over the 2010 crackdown.

Both Abhisit and Suthep will be given 15 days to respond to accusations that they mishandled the crackdown before the anti-graft body decides whether to fully indict them, Vicha added.

If it does approve an indictment, Thailand's junta-appointed rubber stamp parliament will then decide whether to impeach the pair after a hearing.