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Thai court hands embattled PM new challenge

Wednesday - 4/2/2014, 5:38am  ET

THANYARAT DOKSONE
Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) -- Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is facing another legal challenge that could remove her from office after a court announced Wednesday it will hear a case accusing her of misconduct for transferring a key government official.

The announcement by the Constitutional Court came amid criticism from Yingluck's supporters that the courts are trying to topple the prime minister through unfair use of the legal system after four months of anti-government protests failed to unseat her.

The latest case was lodged by anti-government senators who say Yingluck violated the constitution by transferring her National Security Council chief in 2011 to another position. In February, another court ruled the official, Thawil Pliensri, must be restored to his job.

The Constitutional Court ordered Yingluck to present her defense within 15 days. If she is found guilty of interfering in state affairs for her personal benefit or that of her political party, Yingluck would have to step down as prime minister.

Thailand has been gripped by political conflict since 2006, when then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's billionaire brother, was ousted in a military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. Thaksin's supporters and opponents have each taken to the streets for extended periods in a power struggle that is currently focused on removing Yingluck, who took office in 2011. Opponents say she is a proxy for her brother, who is living overseas in self-imposed exile.

The courts and independent state agencies are widely seen as biased against Thaksin's political machine, and there are fears that Yingluck supporters could return to the streets if they feel she is facing a "judicial coup."

Currently, Yingluck is a caretaker prime minister, having called early elections in February as a way of affirming her mandate after the protests against her began. However, the Feb. 2 polls were annulled last month by the Constitutional Court and no date has been set for a new election.

Several other legal cases are pending against members of her party that could make it impossible for her to form a government.

Yingluck's opponents hope that a failure to form a new government will spark a constitutional crisis, allowing them to invoke vaguely defined clauses in the charter and have an unelected prime minister installed.

Yingluck on Monday defended herself against charges of dereliction of duty in overseeing a contentious rice subsidy program, in a case under consideration by the National Anti-Corruption Commission that could lead to her suspension and eventual impeachment by the Senate.

Over the weekend, Yingluck said the case appeared rushed and biased.

"I have no alternative but to conclude that as far as the examination of evidence and witness in this case is concerned, I have not been treated equitably or received any justice," she said.

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Associated Press writer Jocelyn Gecker contributed to this report.


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