Thai Red Shirt chiefs ordered to pay for 2010 arson damage

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand's Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered three leaders of the Red Shirt political movement to pay 21 million baht ($691,000) compensation to business owners whose commercial buildings were set on fire at the climax of two months of aggressive street protests in 2010.

The verdict on a civil suit was the latest in a series of rulings covering political unrest from 2006 to 2014, when an army coup put an end to disorder.

An earlier coup in 2006 set off a sometimes violent struggle for power between Red Shirt supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his opponents, the royalist Yellow Shirts.

The 2010 protests saw the Red Shirts occupy a large swath of central Bangkok before the army ousted them by force. More than 90 people were killed and thousands injured during the protests, and arson presumably carried out by Red Shirts as they were dispersed caused extensive property damage.

The leaders of the Red Shirts — more formally known as the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship — who were ordered to jointly pay compensation, plus another 1.2 million baht ($40,000 ) for the loss of earning benefits to the plaintiffs, were Jatuporn Prompan, Nattawut Saikua and Weng Tojirakarn.

Also originally named in the lawsuit were Abhisit Vejjajiva, the prime minister in 2010, and senior members of his Cabinet, but the case against them was dismissed earlier by the Appeals Court.

In August, the Supreme Court ordered Jatuporn and two other Red Shirt leaders, Nattawut Saikua and Arisman Pongruangrong, to pay more than 19 million baht ($626,000) compensation to several owners of other shops and commercial buildings, ruling their speeches had incited protesters' anger, with predictable consequences.

Two other recent court rulings had mixed results for the Red Shirts.

Last month, the Supreme Court affirmed the prison sentences of 12 Red Shirt members convicted in connection with rioting that disrupted an important regional conference in 2009.

The 12 had received four-year prison sentences for their actions on April 11, 2009, when supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin seeking to force out a government of their opponents stormed a hotel in the resort city of Pattaya hosting the summit meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The ASEAN leaders were forced to flee, some by helicopter, and the summit was postponed. The defendants were convicted on charges of sedition, illegal assembly, damaging property and trespassing.

However, in an August ruling covering the 2010 protests, the Bangkok Criminal Court dismissed terrorism and other charges against 24 Red Shirt leaders, ruling that their action was "a political fight, not terrorism." The group had been charged with terrorism, criminal association, using force to damage government property, inciting unrest, possession of arms, obstruction of officials through intimidation and gathering more than 10 people to cause chaos.

Thai courts have had a reputation for tilting against the Red Shirts and others associated with Thaksin. In July, the Criminal Court dismissed charges of insurrection against four key members of an anti-Thaksin group, the People's Democratic Reform Committee. The group organized large, aggressive street protests in late 2013 that a government led by Thaksin's sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, could not control, causing chaos that served as the reason for the military to stage a 2014 takeover. An election in March this year brought a pro-military party to power.