Bangkok: The immediate fate of Thailand’s beleaguered prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra will be decided on Thursday next week when judges of the country’s anti-corruption commission summon her to answer a charge of negligence over a controversial rice subsidy scheme.
If the judges find her guilty she will be suspended from office and face impeachment proceedings in Thailand’s Senate, bringing an abrupt end to the two and half year-rule of Thailand’s first woman prime minister, and plunging Thailand deeper into political crisis.
As renewed violence erupted on Bangkok’s streets, Ms Yingluck lashed out at her political enemies, accusing them of obstructing the implementation of the rice scheme she insisted had benefitted farmers and underpinned the economy.
“I am saddened and must apologise to the farmers as anti-government groups are holding rice farmers hostage and blocking the government from effectively implementing the scheme,” she said in a televised address.
“I must reaffirm the rice pledging scheme is the right policy and there was no conspiracy to corrupt.”
Ms Yingluck’s government is winding down the scheme at the end of February after it had suffered losses totalling as much as $US8 billion because farmers were paid almost 50 per cent above global market rates for their rice.
The government has struggled to find enough money to pay farmers for their latest crops, bringing hundreds of them on to the streets to protest.
Depositors at the Government Savings Bank pulled more than $US1 billion from their accounts on Monday after the bank provided a loan to the agricultural cooperative operating the rice scheme.
Ms Yingluck’s supporters say the anti-corruption commission’s action is part of what they see as a judicial coup orchestrated by powerful figures in Bangkok.
Ms Yingluck, who chairs a body that oversees the scheme that has left Thailand with huge stockpiles of unsold rice, denies any wrongdoing.
Pro-government red shirts in Thailand’s north and north-east have said they will mobilise 500,000 people to fight if she is forced from office, including setting up an alternative capital in northern Chiang Mai.
Meanwhile, clashes appear likely to continue on Bangkok’s streets as anti-government protesters vow to step-up their campaign against Ms Yingluck’s government and refuse to negotiate with police over their weeks-long occupation of protest sites across Bangkok.
Labor minister Chalerm Yoobamrung has warned that protesters must leave the sites at key government buildings this week or police would move to reclaim them.
More than 15,000 police have been mobilised in Bangkok for the operation.
On Tuesday a policeman was among four people killed as police clashed with protesters near government buildings in Bangkok’s historic quarter.
In his latest firebrand speech protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban declared that Ms Yingluck should be forced from the country.
“It is time to run this she-devil out of our native land,” he said.
The upheaval is the latest episode in an eight-year conflict that in broad terms pits one elite group of Thais backed by Bangkok’s middle class with another group backed by exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is Ms Yingluck’s brother.
The protesters have been rallying since November in a campaign to force the powerful Shinawatra family from politics and set-up an unelected body to run the country for up to two years.
The latest violence brought to 14 the number of people killed since the protests began after the government attempted to pass an amnesty bill that would have allowed Mr Thaksin to return from exile without having to serve jail time for corruption.