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September 20, 2017

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Court removes Thai PM Yingluck Shinawatra from office

BANGKOK, AFP- Thailand's Constitutional Court dismissed Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from office for abuse of power on Wednesday, in a ruling that threatens to unleash a new wave of political unrest in the kingdom.

The court, which has played a key role in deposing Shinawatra-linked governments in recent turbulent chapters of Thai politics, ruled unanimously that she acted illegally by transferring a top security official in 2011.

"Therefore her prime minister status has ended... Yingluck can no longer stay in her position acting as caretaker prime minister," presiding judge Charoon Intachan said in a televised ruling.

Several cabinet ministers who endorsed the decision to transfer Thawil will also be stripped of their status.

The court also declined to appoint a new prime minister.

It was not immediately clear whether the ruling would create a political vacuum or if one of Yingluck's ministers nominated after Thawil's transfer would be able to step into her shoes, pending a future election.

The case plunges Thailand deeper into a prolonged political crisis with anti-government protesters still on Bangkok's streets and Yingluck's "Red Shirt" supporters also threatening to rally to defend her, raising fears of clashes.

Jubilant anti-government demonstrators blew whistles outside the court to mark her removal -- a key demand of their movement, which is seeking to curb the influence of Yingluck's billionaire brother, Thaksin.

"I am happy even though the the whole cabinet has not been removed. People who do not respect the law should be thrown out," Linjong Thummathorn told AFP.

The kingdom has been bedevilled by a bitter political schism since 2006 when an army coup deposed former telecoms magnate Thaksin.

He is reviled by the Bangkok elite, middle class and royalist southerners who say he has sponsored nepotism, widespread corruption and perceive him as a threat to the monarchy.

But he is loved by the populous, poor north and northeast and among the urban working class for recognising their burgeoning political and economic aspirations.

They have returned Shinawatra-led or linked governments to power in every election since 2001.

Thaksin lives overseas to avoid jail for corruption convictions, but is accused of running the country by proxy through his sister.

Political vacuum?

Normally, a deputy prime minister can replace the premier in the event of their dismissal until a new government is formed through elections.

But the court ruling against several senior cabinet ministers leaves a question mark over who is able to take over the top job.

The kingdom could move into uncharted territory, leaving the nation without a premier, cabinet and lower house -- which was dissolved to hold elections in February that were later annulled.

In that scenario, the anti-government protesters are expected to swiftly push for the Thai Senate to appoint a premier and government -- a key aim as they seek to reform Thailand's political system to curb the influence of the Shinawatra family.

"If the government does not accept the verdict... then it's up to the people to come out and pressure them to accept it," Akanat Promphan, spokesman for the anti-government movement told AFP before the ruling.

The ruling Puea Thai party has accused the court of railroading through Yingluck's case to satisfy its political bias against the Shinawatras.

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