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Thailand’s former prime minister charged with murder

HONG KONG — The former prime minister of Thailand, Abhisit Vejjajiva, was charged with murder Thursday for his role in a military crackdown on antigovernment protesters in Bangkok 2½ years ago.

Tharit Pengdit, the director of Thailand’s Department of Special Investigation, said Abhisit and his deputy had issued ‘‘orders that caused the deaths of many people.’’

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Abhisit was charged in the killing of Phan Khamkong, a taxi driver whose case is one of the first from the protests to advance through the courts. More than 90 people were killed in the violence, mostly civilians.

“Even though there was already loss of life, the operations were not stopped, and other methods were not implemented,’’ Tharit said at a news briefing in Bangkok.

Tharit said that at this stage no charges would be brought against the soldiers who fired at protesters, because they acted under orders from their commanders and are shielded under Thai law.

The capital’s streets have remained largely calm since the violence, which took place in April and May 2010, but political tensions are still simmering among the country’s main power brokers. Abhisit, whose Democrat Party lost in a general election last year, has found himself on the defensive as political battles have moved from the streets into the courts.

Crucially for Abhisit, the levers of power in Thailand are now in the hands of the party allied with the ‘‘red shirt’’ protesters who were swept from Bangkok during the 2010 crackdown.

Chavanond Intarakomalyasut, a spokesman for the Democrat Party, described the murder charge as a politically motivated ‘‘attempt to distort the judicial system.’’

He accused civil servants of shamelessly seeking to advance their careers by aligning themselves with ruling politicians. If found guilty, the men could face the death penalty or a sentence of up to life in prison.

The government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has proposed the idea of a broad amnesty in connection with the protests.

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