Thai panel to charge Yingluck as clashes erupt

A police officer (above) on the defence as his injured colleague was taken away in Bangkok on February 18. Protest leaders accused police of brutality, while police alleged that protesters turned tear gas and M-79 grenade launchers on them.

THAILAND'S anti-graft body said it would charge Premier Yingluck Shinawatra over the troubled state rice mortgage scheme, as clashes between police and protesters in the streets of Bangkok turned bloodier.

Four people, including one policeman, were killed on Tuesday after Thai security forces launched their most concerted effort yet to clear protest sites in the capital's historic district that have been occupied since late last year.

Protesters have accused the Puea Thai-party run administration of massive corruption and being controlled by Ms Yingluck's brother and controversial former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

In response to an announcement by the authorities to clear some sites, protesters left other parts of Bangkok and massed at the Prime Minister's Office and nearby Ratchadamnoen Avenue on Tuesday morning.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, addressing the crowd at the Government House, said: "The only enemy of the people is the Thaksin regime."

Gunfire broke out after thousands of riot police closed in. Protest leaders accused police of brutality, while police alleged that protesters turned tear gas and M-79 grenade launchers on them.

In Bangkok's north, by contrast, police arrested 144 protesters at its Ministry of Energy without much struggle. At the multi- agency Government Complex, protest leaders reopened a major road after negotiations with government officials.

Ms Yingluck's government has had limited powers since it called for snap polls on Feb 2. She has resisted repeated calls to step down.

The caretaker premier now faces possible removal from her post after the National Anti-Corruption Commission announced that it would charge her with negligence over the two-year-old rice mortgage scheme and summoned her to hear the charges on Feb 27.

Under the programme, the state pays farmers about 50 per cent more than the market price for their paddy, but now owes farmers over 100 billion baht (S$3.9 billion) for it.

Government leaders have blamed protesters for hampering the state's ability to draw loans for the payout. But the claim has not gone down well with farmers who have gathered in Bangkok to demand money.

Ms Yingluck, in a televised address earlier on Tuesday morning, said: "It is a pity that the rice farmers' dream for a better life is marred by political games.

"I regret and would like to apologise to all rice farmers that they are being taken as hostage by the anti-government groups."

Payments to farmers are made by the state-run Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC).

 

The Government Savings Bank (GSB), which had earlier granted a 5 billion baht loan to the BAAC, encountered a net withdrawal of 20 billion baht on Monday as irate depositors from the opposition strongholds of Bangkok and southern Thailand closed their accounts.

Under mounting pressure yesterday, GSB president Worawit Chailimpamontri tendered his resignation while the bank announced it would recall the loan granted and cancel a 20 billion- baht credit line to the BAAC.

Ms Yingluck said on Tuesday: "The rice pledging scheme is the right policy… however, at the implementation level if there is any wrongdoings, I would like to see strict scrutiny and investigation."

tanhy@sph.com.sg


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