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Seven Thailand Protest Leaders Jailed Since May Granted Bail

Feb. 22 (Bloomberg) -- 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 will be released after they post bail of 600,000 ($19,582) baht each, according to a Criminal Court judge whose name was withheld for security reasons. 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 Feb. 9 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 May 19 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.

To contact the reporters on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok at dtenkate@bloomberg.net; Suttinee Yuvejwattana in Bangkok at suttinee1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

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