Thai PM faces corruption charges as clashes continue
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Thailand’s anti-corruption body said on Tuesday it had filed charges against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra over irregularities in the government’s rice-buying scheme, while at least three people were killed in clashes in the capital Bangkok.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission has summoned Yingluck to face the charges on February 27. Yingluck is head of the National Rice Committee. Her government introduced the present scheme in 2011, paying farmers way above the market price for their grain.
“Although she knew that many people had warned about corruption in the scheme, she still continued with it. That shows her intention to cause losses to the government so we have unanimously agreed to charge her,” Vicha Mahakhun, a member of the commission, said in a statement.
The news came amid violent clashes in Bangkok, after police launched an operation to clear protesters from the city’s streets earlier in the day. One of the three people killed in the unrest was an officer, who died from a gunshot wound to the head.
“One policeman has died,” national police chief Adul Saengsingkaew told the Reuters news agency, noting that several other officers had also been injured. “The policeman who died, died while being sent to hospital. He was shot in the head.”
The other two victims were both men aged 52 and 29, the Erawan Medical Center, which monitors city hospitals, said on its website.
Televised images of the operation showed clouds of teargas as police and demonstrators clashed near Government House in central Bangkok. It was not clear who had fired the teargas, but the authorities blamed protesters.
Thailand has been gripped by political crisis ever since November, when protests first erupted against Yingluck, whom many view as a proxy for her elder brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a former premier and telecoms tycoon who was ousted by a military coup in 2006.
Security officials said 15,000 officers were involved in an operation, called the “Peace for Bangkok Mission”, to reclaim protest sites around government offices in the centre and north of the capital.
Police said about 100 protesters had been arrested in an early morning operation to clear demonstrators from a site near the Energy Ministry. Meanwhile the Erawan Medical Center, which monitors Bangkok hospitals, reported that at least 14 people injured in the violence.
Ongoing political battle
The protests are the latest chapter of an eight-year political battle broadly pitting the Bangkok middle class and royalist establishment against the poorer, mostly rural supporters of Yingluck and her billionaire brother Thaksin.
Demonstrators accuse Thaksin of nepotism and corruption, alleging that he used taxpayers’ money for populist subsidies and easy loans that have bought him the loyalty of millions in the north and northeast.
Yingluck has been forced to abandon her offices in Government House by the protesters, who have also blocked major intersections since mid-January.
Bluesky TV, the protest movement’s television channel, had earlier shown protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban addressing police lines near Government House.
“We are not fighting to get power for ourselves,” Suthep said. “The reforms we will set in motion will benefit your children and grandchildren, too. The only enemy of the people is the Thaksin regime.”
Labour Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung, who is in charge of the security operation, has said police would reclaim sites near Government House, the Interior Ministry and a government administration complex in north Bangkok as well as the Energy Ministry.
The largest protest sites in the city’s business and shopping districts are not included for now.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)