Thai red shirt leaders freed

A
Thai court granted bail to seven leaders of anti-government demonstrations
jailed since a military crackdown in May, meeting a key demand from the protest
group after it threatened to stage larger rallies.

The
suspects were freed after posting bail of $19,582 each.

 They are among 19 people charged with terrorism
for leading Red Shirt demonstrators in protests last year that killed 91 people
and led to arson attacks.

The
Red Shirts, backed by exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin
Shinawatra, have held
bi-weekly rallies in Bangkok to pressure the court to release the imprisoned
leaders.

 The group occupied a Bangkok business district
for six weeks last year to push for an immediate election.

Prime
Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on 9 February an election would be held
by the end of June, about six months before his term is set to expire.

Abhisit
took power in a 2008 parliamentary vote after a court disbanded the pro-Thaksin
ruling party for election fraud, and has faced protests from the Red Shirts
ever since.

Those
set to be released include Nattawut Saikuar, a former government spokesman, and
Weng Tojirakarn, who participated in televised negotiations with Abhisit before
the 19 May crackdown.

 Weng’s wife, Thida Thavornseth, became acting
chairwoman of the Red Shirts, formerly known as the United
Front for Democracy
Against Dictatorship, after his imprisonment.

The
court also granted bail to another Red Shirt supporter who served as an aide to
the leaders, the judge said.

The
defendants cannot leave the country or incite protests, he said.