Thai PM protests innocence amid impeachment threat

AFP , Thursday 20 Feb 2014

Anti-government protesters gather outside a business building owned by SC Asset Corp during a rally in Bangkok February 20, 2014 (Photo: Reuters)

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Thursday protested her innocence after an anti-corruption panel filed charges of neglect of duty that could lead to her removal from office.

Yingluck, who has faced near four months of mass street protests seeking her resignation, questioned why the investigation by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) into an expensive rice subsidy scheme had apparently been fast-tracked.

"I reaffirm that I am innocent of the accusations by the NACC," Yingluck said on her official Facebook page.

"Even though I am accused of criminal charges and face removal (from office), which were the wishes of people who want to overthrow the government, I am willing to cooperate to establish the facts," she added.

The NACC says Yingluck ignored warnings that the rice scheme was fostering corruption and causing financial losses. She has been summoned to hear the charges on February 27.

Yingluck urged the panel not to rush to deliver a ruling "which may be criticised by society as benefiting people who want to overthrow the government," noting that similar complaints against the previous administration were still under investigation.

Her critics say the controversial scheme, which guarantees farmers above-market rates for rice, has encouraged corruption, drained the public coffers and left the country with a mountain of unsold stock.

They accuse her billionaire family of using taxpayers' money to buy the loyalty of rural voters through such populist policies. Yingluck said she was simply trying to improve the lives of farmers.

The opposition demonstrators want Yingluck to step down and make way for a temporary unelected government that would oversee loosely defined reforms to tackle corruption and alleged vote-buying.

The country's main opposition party boycotted a February 2 election and the results are not expected to be known until voting is held in constituencies where voting was disrupted by protesters.

In another legal setback to Yingluck, a Thai Civil Court on Wednesday ordered the government not to use force against peaceful protests, limiting the authorities' scope to deal with opposition rallies that have descended into violence on several occasions.

Sixteen people have been killed, both protesters and policemen, and hundreds injured in gunfire and grenade blasts.

New York-based Human Rights Watch accused both sides of using live ammunition in clashes on Tuesday in Bangkok's historic district in which five people were killed and dozens wounded.

"Excessive force by the police and violence by groups on both sides of the political divide needs to stop to prevent this situation from escalating out of control," HRW Asia director Brad Adams said in a statement.

The government has said security forces used only rubber bullets and not live ammunition.

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