Thai 'Yellow Shirts' face court over airport rallies

A Thai court on Monday postponed the trial of dozens of royalist activists facing charges relating to their roles in 2008 rallies that paralysed Bangkok's main airports stranding thousands of tourists.

Nearly 100 members of the nationalist People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) "Yellow Shirt" group appeared at the Criminal Court over a wave of demonstrations against allies of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra almost five years ago.

But the court agreed to wait until July 29 to hear from the defendants, after it emerged that some of those charged did not have legal representation.

"The defendants have said they want to appoint their own lawyers because they face serious charges with maximum sentence of the death penalty. The hearing cannot continue if defendants have no lawyers," said the presiding judge.

The Yellow Shirts, who boast support from Bangkok elites and elements in the military, are planning to deny the charges against them, according to lawyer Puangtip Boonsanong, who represents some of the defendants.

Key members of the group, including the group's media mogul founder Sondhi Limthongkul, face terrorism charges over their alleged role in occupying the airports.

Some observers were forced to stand at Monday's hearing, as lawyers, journalists and about 20 Yellow Shirt supporters filled the room, according to an AFP reporter in the court.

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. Monday's hearing applied to 96 defendants, while cases against a further 18 have yet to reach court.

The airport siege was the Yellows' 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 claims of double standards by their rival "Red Shirts" -- allies of Thaksin, whose sister Yingluck Shinawatra is Thailand's current premier.

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 helped 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.

tp/klm/mtp