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June 24, 2017

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Thailand prime minister to be charged with neglect of duty as clashes leave four dead

BANGKOK -- Thailand's embattled premier will be charged with neglect of duty, anti-graft officials said Tuesday, as clashes between police and opposition protesters left four dead and dozens wounded in central Bangkok.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission said that if found guilty of the accusations — which relate to a controversial rice subsidy scheme — Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra could be removed from office.

The announcement came hours after gunfire and explosions shook an area of the city's historic district just a short walk away from major tourist attractions, as riot police moved to clear sites of protest rallies.

A policeman was shot dead and three civilians were killed, according to the Erawan emergency centre, while 64 others were injured. Police said 24 of its officers were among those hurt.

It was unclear who fired the fatal shots but a government spokeswoman said police used only rubber bullets and not live ammunition.

The protesters have staged more than three months of mass street rallies demanding Yingluck's resignation, occupying major state buildings and preventing civil servants going to work.

Police launched another operation to reclaim besieged government buildings and clear rally sites in the capital Tuesday, tearing through razor wire and sandbag barricades.

They met fierce resistance from protesters and were eventually forced to retreat amid volleys of gunfire.

"The government cannot work here anymore," a spokesman for the protesters, Akanat Promphan, said from a rally site near Yingluck's headquarters which the police failed to seize back.

"The will of the people is still strong. The government is trapped. It has no way forward," he added.

Bemused tourists caught up in the chaos were seen taking photos of the aftermath of the clashes near the backpacker haven of Khaosan Road.

"I heard there were political problems in Thailand but I came anyway," said Jerome Dennehy, 45, from Ireland.

"It's not good to see but this is one part of Bangkok, in a country of millions. It won't stop my holiday."

Around 150 opposition demonstrators were arrested at a different rally site at an energy ministry complex in the capital on charges of violating a state of emergency — the first mass detentions during the current protests began.

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