Thai ruling party escapes punishment: court

BANGKOK - Thailand's ruling party on Wednesday escaped the threat of dissolution in a key court verdict that slammed a bill it had proposed as "unconstitutional", as political rivals rallied in Bangkok.

The Constitutional Court verdict was welcomed by both sides of Thailand's fractured political landscape, with both pro- and anti-government figures claiming victory.

"The judges dismissed the petition to dissolve the political parties," Constitutional Court judge Jaroon Intaracha said, reading the ruling.

But he criticised the process of pushing through a proposal to amend the constitution - drawn up under the military junta that deposed divisive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra - to make the Thai senate a fully elected body.

The court said the amendment "aimed to obtain power in an undemocratic way", adding that some MPs had been found to have voted on behalf of others, a practice it said was "illegal".

It added the ruling party's amendment bid was "unconstitutional".

Judicial rulings have played an important role in politically turbulent Thailand.

Two pro-Thaksin premiers were forced from office in 2008 by such rulings, making way for the opposition Democrat Party, which is backed by the military and Bangkok's elite, to take power in a parliamentary vote.

The pro-government Red Shirt rally group, which has gathered over 20,000 people in the capital ahead of the verdict, welcomed the court decision not to dissolve the ruling Puea Thai party.

But the group slammed the court's ruling against the amendment.

"If we cannot amend one article, how about the whole constitution," said Red Shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan.

A lawyer for the opposition Democrat Party said the ruling should trigger the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's sister.

"The amendment, which was not based on rule of law, but to benefit of specific people, cannot go through," said Virat Karlayasiri.