Thai graft agency rules against ex-PM as "red shirts" head for Bangkok

Thai graft agency rules against ex-PM as "red shirts" head for Bangkok
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (L) answers questions from the media during a press conference at the permanent secretary for defence suburb of Bangkok on May 7, 2014. Panthep Klanarongran (R), president of the National Anti-Corruption Commission, gestures during a news conference at the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) office in Nonthaburi province, on the outskirts of Bangkok May 8, 2014.

BANGKOK - Thailand's anti-graft agency indicted former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra for negligence on Thursday, a ruling that came a day after a court threw her out of office and could kill off any hopes she has of staging an electoral comeback.

Thousands of her loyalists were converging on the capital as the National Anti-Corruption Commission's announced its decision to press ahead with charges related to a financially ruinous state rice-buying scheme.

The blows delivered on successive days by the commission and Thailand's Constitutional Court are the latest twists in a struggle for power between Thailand's royalist establishment and Yingluck's brother, ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra. "The committee has investigated and there is enough evidence to make a case ... We will now forward it to the Senate," the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) president, Panthep Klanarongran, told reporters.

If found guilty by the Senate, Yingluck could be banned from politics for five years. Several other members of the family and about 150 of Thaksin's other political allies have been banned for five-year terms since 2007.

Yingluck's removal from office by the Constitutional Court on Wednesday for abuse of power followed months of sometimes deadly protests in Bangkok aimed at toppling her government and ending elder brother Thaksin's influence.

Thaksin, a billionaire former telecommunications tycoon who has won the unswerving loyalty of legions of Thailand's rural and urban poor, lives in exile to avoid a 2008 jail sentence for abuse of power, but he looms over politics.

The Constitutional Court, which removed two previous pro-Thaksin prime ministers in 2008, ruled that Yingluck and nine of her cabinet ministers had abused power in 2011 over the transfer of a security agency chief.

However, the court left the Shinawatras' ruling party in charge of a caretaker administration intent on organising a July 20 general election, which Yingluck's party would likely win.

RICE SCHEME

The rice subsidy scheme that is the focus of the anti-corruption commission case was a flagship policy of Yingluck's administration, aimed at helping her rural supporters, under which the state paid farmers way above market prices for their crops.

But the government could not sell much of the rice it quickly stockpiled and was unable to pay many farmers. "The scheme incurred huge losses and had weaknesses and risks at every level from the registration of farmers to the sale of the rice," Commissioner Vicha Mahakun told reporters.

Activists from both the pro- and anti-government sides are planning big rallies in Bangkok in the coming days, raising fears of clashes. Twenty-five people have been killed since the protests began in November. "This is the first time both sides will protest near each other and each have hardcore elements, which is extremely worrying," said political analyst Kan Yuenyong at the Siam Intelligence Unit think tank.

Grenade attacks and sporadic gun battles have become increasingly frequent as the crisis has dragged on. There were four grenade or small bomb blasts in Bangkok on Wednesday night, including one at the home of a Constitutional Court judge. No injuries were reported, police said.

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