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Court convicts ‘Yellow Shirt’ protesters

BANGKOK | A Thai court ordered prison terms Thursday for 79 members of the right-wing, nationalist “Yellow Shirt” movement who stormed a state television station two years ago armed with guns, knives and clubs.

The convictions are the first major court ruling against members of the People’s Alliance for Democracy, who are best known for seizing a government compound and Bangkok’s two airports in 2008 as part of their campaign to bring down a government allied with deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Leaders of the airport shutdown have never been prosecuted, leading to growing complaints from rival “Red Shirt” protesters that they have been spared punishment because of support from the monarchy and ruling elite.

Bangkok’s Criminal Court sentenced the 79 Yellow Shirt members to prison terms from nine months to 2½ years on charges ranging from illegal gun possession, illegal entry, illegal assembly and destroying public property. Six other activists were given suspended prison sentences.

No Yellow Shirt leaders were charged, only activists who served as guards for the protesters.

BURMA

U.S. calls for democratic Burma

The United States on Thursday called for Burma to free prisoners and engage in dialogue to promote democracy as the military-led country prepared to mark its independence on Jan. 4.

The State Department congratulated Burma, also known as Myanmar, on its 63rd independence anniversary but hoped for “the day when Burma’s citizens will succeed in their peaceful efforts to exercise freely their universal human rights.”

“We are unwavering in our support for an independent, peaceful, prosperous and democratic Burma,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.

“The United States remains prepared to improve bilateral relations, but looks to the Burmese government to meet the aspirations of its diverse peoples by freeing all political prisoners and engaging in an inclusive and meaningful dialogue with all its citizens in pursuit of genuine national reconciliation.”

The junta in November freed the leader of the democratic opposition, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who had spent most of the past two decades under house arrest after her party won elections but was not allowed to take power.

From wire dispatches and staff reports