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Thailand court ousts Yingluck from office on abuse of power

[SINGAPORE] This surely wasn't quite how Yingluck Shinawatra had intended to celebrate her 1,000th day as Thailand's prime minister.

The 46-year-old, who reached that milestone on Tuesday, was ordered by a court yesterday to step down after she was deemed guilty of abusing her power, possibly plunging the crisis-hit nation into further political turmoil.

One of her deputies, Commerce Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan, was named caretaker prime minister. He is a former executive in fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra's corporate empire.

After reading out its verdict, the Constitutional Court ruled unanimously that Ms Yingluck had acted illegally three years ago when she transferred her national security chief.

The transfer of National Security Council secretary-general Thawil Pliensri was carried out so that a relative of Ms Yingluck's could benefit from subsequent job moves, the judges said.

The process was completed in just four days, and there was a discrepancy in the dates of documents related to the transfer, the judges added.

Ms Yingluck, whose Puea Thai party swept to power after the July 2011 general election, had maintained her innocence all along.

She had argued during the trial on Tuesday that she had assigned her deputy to take care of the issue, and hence she did not take part directly in the transfer, which she maintained was done in full compliance with the law.

Ms Yingluck's shock ouster is a remarkable fall from grace for the younger sister of Thaksin who became the first woman to lead the kingdom after her party won the general elections three years ago.

Ms Yingluck was not the only casualty as a result of the judicial blow yesterday. Nine members of her Cabinet, including four deputy prime ministers, were also removed from office as they had endorsed the transfer.

Giving her farewell address at a press conference, Ms Yingluck said she accepted the court's decision to dismiss her. She also thanked her supporters for supporting her government during her time in charge.

"I am so sorry that I no longer have the opportunity to serve the people . . . I am proud of every minute I have worked as prime minister because I came from a democratic election," she said as she occasionally fought back tears.

"I insisted that we have used honesty to administer the country and we have never done anything that conveys any dishonest actions as accused," she later told reporters.

Things could get worse for her in coming days. She is due to find out if she will be indicted by anti-graft officials for neglect of duty in connection with a costly and controversial rice subsidy scheme. An unfavourable ruling could see her banned from politics for five years.

The latest developments are likely to increase tensions in an already bitterly divided country, particularly in the rural north where Ms Yingluck and her party enjoy strong support.

Thailand, South-east Asia's second-largest economy, has been rocked by numerous street demonstrations for the past six months, with anti-government protesters demanding that Ms Yingluck step down.

The embattled leader eventually dissolved Parliament and called for fresh elections, which were held in February. However, the results were later declared null and void because not all constituencies were able to vote.

Just last week, it was announced that a new general election would take place on July 20, though it was not immediately clear if the poll would proceed smoothly given Ms Yingluck's ouster. That poll date has yet to be endorsed by a royal decree.

News of Ms Yingluck's dismissal, which was announced at about 2pm, did not appear to have an immediate impact on the markets.

The Stock Exchange of Thailand's main index ended down 1.4 points, or 0.1 per cent, at 1,402.61.