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Thai ex-PM Yingluck to hear verdict on negligence charge

[BANGKOK] Thailand's top court will rule later Friday whether ousted premier Yingluck Shinawatra is guilty of criminal negligence, a verdict that could see her jailed and risks riling her family's significant support base.

Thailand's first female prime minister, toppled by a military coup in 2014, faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted and a life ban from politics.

That outcome would be a heavy blow to the Shinawatra political dynasty, who have clung on in Thailand's treacherous political game for over a decade despite two coups, deadly protests, a cascade of law cases and assets seizures.

Ms Yingluck, 50, has been tried for negligence over a rice subsidy that poured cash on her family's rural political heartland, but was beset by graft and led to billions of dollars of losses.

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Police gathered late Thursday around the Supreme Court in northern Bangkok, erecting barriers and CCTV cameras, in anticipation of the largest turnout of Shinawatra supporters since the coup.

That has raised the spectre of confrontations with the police.

In a Facebook post on Thursday Yingluck asked her followers to stay home to avoid any incidents stoked by people with "ill-intention against the country and us".

Her previous court appearances over an 18 month trial have seen crowds gather outside the court, showering her with roses and chanting support - a rare sight in a nation where political meetings remain outlawed.

The Shinawatra family emerged as a political force in 2001 when billionaire family patriarch, Thaksin, swept to power.

He jump-started the economy and provided the most extensive pro-poor welfare schemes in Thai history.

But critics accused him of using political power to further his business interests.

He remains loathed by the Bangkok royalist elite but cherished by the rural poor.

A coup toppled him in 2006 and he fled overseas following a graft conviction.

Protests and court cases have hacked at their governments and finances, followed by the 2014 coup.

To many supporters Yingluck is finally emerging from her elder brother's shadow, drawing on a star quality absent amongst the gloomy cast of ageing generals who rule Thailand.

She has pleaded innocent to the charges, saying she is the victim of a "subtle political game".

But her enemies say a conviction is merited for a dynasty accused of graft and nepotism.

Historically the Shinawatras have been able to mass huge crowds of supporters - known as the "Red Shirts" - to take to the streets when the family's political fortunes have waned.

But three years of repressive junta rule has successfully quashed any widespread opposition to the military for now.

Paul Chambers, a Thai politics expert at Naresuan University, said a guilty verdict might reinvigorate the Red Shirts.

"Such a ruling would draw Shinawatra supporters increasingly together against the junta," he told AFP.

AFP