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Thai Democrat Party Cleared of Election Fraud

A constitutional tribunal in Thailand has acquitted the country's second largest party - the Democrats - of slander and bribery linked to general elections held in April last year. The tribunal has yet to release its judgment on the party of the ousted Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra. Ron Corben reports from Bangkok.

The constitutional tribunal found the Democrat Party not guilty of slander, bribery and false detention charges linked to general elections last April.

Party leaders, who had faced five-year bans from politics, called for the country to move on and hold a new vote.

The Democrat Party had boycotted last year's elections, which were later annulled.

Instead of punishing the Democrats, the court found several smaller parties guilty of breaching electoral laws and said they should be dissolved.

Chulalongkorn University political scientist Thitinan Pongsudhirak says the ruling is significant.

"The clearing of all charges against the Democrat Party has already reshaped the political landscape, because now the Democrats will be allowed to run [in the elections], the evidence has always been less convincing and against Thai Rak Thai," he said.

The ruling was broadcast nationwide on radio and TV, amid heightened security.

Thitinan says a judgment against the former governing party, Thai Rak Thai, could sharply divide the country.

"A lot of Thai Rak Thai supporters around the country will feel this is discrimination, that this is persecution and they will likely protest," said Thitinan. "We will see more rumblings and undercurrents and more volatility in the coming weeks."

Thai Rak Thai Party executive Ansanee Narpong said, outside the tribunal, the key issue was to return Thailand to democracy following the military coup of last September.

"The bigger problem is how can we go to the real democracy and going to the election - that is more important," said Ansanee.

Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont, who heads the military government, says a referendum will be held on a newly drafted constitution and elections are planned for mid-December this year.