Fears of unrest as Thai court forces PM's exit

A Thai court has found Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra guilty of abuse of power, forcing her from office and enraging her supporters, who are planning mass protests.

Thousands of Ms Yingluck's Red Shirts supporters say they will descend on Bangkok on Saturday to protest the Constitutional Court's ruling she abused her power by demoting the country's national security chief in 2011.

They say Ms Yingluck, who will be forced to leave office almost immediately and has no right of appeal, is the victim of a ''judicial coup'' orchestrated by influential figures in Bangkok's military and royalist establishment.

The court also ordered the removal of several cabinet ministers who were involved in the transfer of national security chief Thawil Pliensri in 2011, months after Ms Yingluck was elected Thailand's first female prime minister in a landslide victory.

The arrival of Red Shirts in the capital will stoke fears of violent clashes with anti-government protesters, who have been rallying largely unopposed on the streets and occupying key government buildings for six months in a campaign to topple Ms Yingluck's administration. Red Shirt leaders say they expect up to 100,000 people from 20 provinces to travel to Bangkok by Saturday.

Jatuporn Prompan, leader of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, said his Red Shirt organisation expected an attempt to appoint an outsider as prime minister following the court's ruling. ''It would be either a coup in disguise with protection provided by the military, or a coup directly staged by the military, which would cause the people throughout the country to rise up and fight,'' he said.

Noppadom Pattama, an adviser to Ms Yingluck, said she had no option but to stand down.

But the remaining cabinet ministers not implicated in the case would carry on in their positions until elections set for July 20.

Even before the verdict was announced the government challenged the court's authority to make it.

Tarit Pengdit, the head of the country's Department of Special Investigation and secretary-general of the Administration of Peace and Order, a body set up to handle the crisis for the government, said the Constitutional Court always based its rulings on regulations it set for itself, but had failed to have the regulations supported by an act of parliament, as the constitution required.

Ms Yingluck denied any wrongdoing in the case.

''I didn't do anything that is prohibited by law and I have carried out my duty in the administration with the country's benefit in mind,'' she told a hearing of the court on Tuesday.

The court refused Ms Yingluck permission to call five witnesses in the case, which her supporters say was unfairly rushed.

In March, the court nullified a February general election won by Ms Yingluck's Pheu Thai party, which had been disrupted by anti-government protesters demanding the Shinawrata family quit politics.

The country's Election Commission has said it wants to arrange a fresh election for July 20.

The Constitutional Court has in the past generally ruled against Ms Yingluck and her elder brother Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister ousted in a 2006 coup who lives in exile to avoid a jail sentence for corruption. It has also removed two prime ministers who have close ties to Thaksin, a divisive figure in Thai politics.

About 40,000 Red shirt supporters rallied on Bangkok's outskirts last month in a show of force after keeping away from the capital to avoid confrontations with anti-government protesters, whose numbers have dwindled to several thousands camped out in Bangkok's Lumphini Park.

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