Thai PM denies abuse of power in key legal challenge

Thai PM denies abuse of power in key legal challenge
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra walks as she leaves the Constitutional Court in Bangkok on May 6, 2014.

BANGKOK - Thailand's besieged Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra denied an abuse of power allegation at the nation's Constitutional Court on Tuesday in a legal challenge which could see her removed from office.

The case, one of two potential knockout legal moves against her premiership, comes as Thailand's political crisis reaches a critical juncture.

Anti-government protesters are still massed on Bangkok's streets - although in diminished numbers - and Yingluck's supporters are also threatening to rally to defend her.

The premier denied the complaint, filed by a group of senators, who said that the replacement of then-national security chief Thawil Pliensri after she was elected in 2011 was for the benefit of her party.

"I deny the allegation... I didn't violate any laws, I didn't receive any benefit from the appointment," a composed Yingluck told the court, adding she replaced Thawil for the benefit of the country.

Under the constitution - forged after a 2006 coup that ousted Yingluck's billionaire brother Thaksin Shinawatra as premier - such an offence could lead to her removal and a ban from politics.

The court could also extend its verdict to Cabinet members who endorsed the decision to remove Thawil, potentially dislodging a layer of ruling party decision-makers with ties to Thaksin, who lives overseas to avoid jail for corruption convictions.

Thawil has been re-instated as head of the NSC by the order of another court.

"It's up to the judges," said Jarupong Ruangsuwan, leader of the ruling Puea Thai party, told AFP before the hearing.

"All I can say is that if the court convicts the prime minister and her entire cabinet there will be turmoil," he said, adding "all may be known today".

The court has not given a date for its ruling.

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