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Thailand drops charges against Muslim protesters

[JURIST] The new government of Thailand [JURIST news archive] has dropped charges against 92 Muslim participants in a 2004 anti-government protest. The news comes a day after interim Prime Minister Chulanont Surayud [official website, BBC profile] apologized to Muslim leaders in the southern Pattani province for the former government's crackdown on an Islamic insurgency. Surayud, who came to power after a bloodless coup [JURIST report] in September led by commander Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, the highest-ranking Muslim in the Thai army, also confirmed that the new government will investigate human rights abuses [JURIST report] allegedly committed by the administration of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra [BBC profile].

The 92 Muslims were charged in 2004 with instigating public disorder and disobeying authorities in the protest, which resulted in 85 deaths. Nearly 2,000 people have died in sectarian violence in Thailand's southern region over the past three years. The Asian Human Rights Commission [advocacy group press release] praised the government's actions but called for the prosecutions of those responsible for killing the protesters. Meanwhile, the Working Group on Justice for Peace, which is representing the protesters, has said that it will continue to seek civil damages. The government of neighboring and predominantly-Muslim Malaysia has also praised Surayud [Bernama report] for his initiative, calling that a "step in the right direction." Reuters has more.

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