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Thai 'Red Shirt' leader given 2-year jail sentence for insulting ex-prime minister

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BANGKOK — A top leader of Thailand's "Red Shirt" political movement was sentenced Wednesday to two years in jail for insulting a former prime minister, the latest blow to the supporters of another ex-prime minister, billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra.

Bangkok Criminal Court found Jatuporn Prompan guilty of defaming Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva in two speeches in 2009.

The Red Shirts are backers of Thaksin — who was ousted in a 2006 military coup and convicted of corruption — and his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, whose government was forced out in another coup last year. The group organized several large street protests that turned violent.

Last week, the military-appointed legislature voted to ban Yingluck from political office for five years. Separately, a state anti-corruption body announced it would bring criminal charges against her that carry a 10-year prison term. Both actions were related to a money-losing rice subsidy program her government implemented.

The moves were widely seen as an attempt to cripple Thaksin's political machine and prevent him and his allies from returning to power.

In speeches at rallies in 2009, Jatuporn accused Abhisit of ordering the killings of protesters and preventing Thaksin from seeking a royal pardon. The court found Jatuporn guilty of defamation and sentenced him to one year in prison on each charge.

Jatuporn is also facing various charges in connection with Red Shirt street demonstrations in 2010 which occupied the center of the Thai capital for two months, with some of its supporters engaging in armed clashes with troops and police. By the time the anti-Abhisit protests were quashed by the army, more than 90 people had been killed and over 2,000 hurt. Most of the casualties were unarmed protesters.

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