Thai PM given more time to defend rice scheme charges

Thai PM given more time to defend rice scheme charges
Above: Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra

BANGKOK - Thailand's National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) on Thursday gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra more time to defend herself against charges of negligence over a ruinous rice subsidy scheme, allegations that could bring her down. Ms Yingluck, weakened by four months of street protests, has been given until March 29 to defend herself, pushed back from Friday, March 14.

Thailand's long-running political crisis broadly pits Bangkok's middle class and elite plus some southerners against the mostly rural backers of Ms Yingluck and her brother, ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, from the north and northeast.

Thaksin lives overseas to avoid a two-year jail term handed down for graft but is seen as the power behind Ms Yingluck.

The focus of opposition has switched to the courts from the streets, where the number of protesters has dwindled.

National Security Council chief Paradorn Pattanathabutr said a state of emergency in Bangkok and surrounding provinces could be lifted soon because the "overall security situation has improved", which would come as relief to retailers and the tourism sector, hard hit by the sometimes violent protests.

"We're lifting the state of emergency after pleas from the business community that we do so to restore confidence," Mr Paradorn told Reuters, adding that the decision was waiting for final approval from Yingluck.

An Internal Security Act could be invoked in its place, which would still allow the authorities to impose curfews, operate checkpoints and restrict the movements of protesters.

Despite the easing in tension and the NACC extension, some analysts say the odds are still stacked against Ms Yingluck.

"Both sides know Yingluck's days are numbered. This is posturing on both sides. Her enemies want to be seen as giving her more time but this month or next the NACC will rule against her," Professor Paul Chambers, director of research at the Institute of South East Asian Affairs in Chiang Mai, told Reuters.

"That will make her, and ultimately her government, resign, paving the way for a so-called neutral government."

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