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Thai Court Imposes $17 Million Fine Against Protest Leaders

Anti-government protesters listen to the speech of a leader, unseen, during their protest at Suvarnabhumi international airport in Bangkok, Thailand, Nov. 25, 2008

A court in Thailand has imposed a $17 million fine against nationalist protest leaders who occupied Bangkok’s airports in 2008. It is the first significant ruling against the leaders of the Yellow Shirts movement and comes as they are quarrelling with the current government.

Thailand’s Civil Court Friday ruled that 13 leaders of the People’s Alliance for Democracy must pay the airport authority over $17 million (522 million baht) for lost revenues from landing fees and other income.

The PAD, also known as the Yellow Shirts, occupied Bangkok’s main airports for a week in late November 2008 to force the government from power.

Authorities say they were forced to shut down Bangkok’s Don Mueang and Suvarnabhumi airports.

Tens of thousands of people were left stranded, Thai businesses lost billions of dollars in revenue and the country’s tourist friendly image was damaged.

Chris Baker, an author and analyst on Thai politics, says Friday’s ruling against the PAD was unprecedented.

"Many people had feared that the PAD and the Yellow Shirts would never be brought to any kind of justice so, this ruling is quite a surprise in that sense. Of course, it's not over yet because I'm sure there will be appeals and many attempts to block it. Still, just the ruling itself is quite phenomenal," he said.

The PAD ended the airport occupation after their demands were met by a court order that dissolved a government aligned with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The politically-charged ruling allowed the current government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to come to power.

Listen to an interview with Bangkok Correspondent Daniel Schearf on Thailand’s current political climate:

His Foreign Minister, Kasit Piromya, supported the occupation of the airports and the PAD was, until this year, considered a government backer.

But, the PAD turned against the government. It staged ongoing street protests demanding it get tough with Cambodia over disputed border territory.

Some PAD leaders are calling for boycotts of expected elections and for parliamentary democracy to be suspended.

There are still court cases pending against PAD leaders, including charges of terrorism for the airport takeover.