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July 22, 2017

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Court removes Thai PM Yingluck Shinawatra

BANGKOK -- Thailand's Constitutional Court Wednesday dismissed Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and nine ministers for abuse of power, leaving the government clinging to power but the nation still locked in a political crisis.

The cabinet swiftly appointed a deputy premier — Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan — to be Yingluck's replacement as the ruling party struggled to regain its footing after the judicial blow.

The court, which has played a key role in deposing two other Shinawatra-linked governments in recent turbulent years, ruled unanimously that Yingluck 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.

Nine cabinet ministers who endorsed the decision to transfer Thawil Pliensri were also stripped of their status.

Fears that the court would dismiss the entire cabinet proved unfounded.

Niwattumrong, a Thaksin-loyalist who is also commerce minister, was quickly promoted to the role of caretaker premier.

He vowed to press ahead with a planned July 20 election to establish a new government. That poll date has yet to be endorsed by a royal decree.

Observers said the court ruling does nothing to ease Thailand's prolonged political malaise.

Anti-government protesters are still on Bangkok's streets and the promotion of a Thaksin supporter may make Yingluck's dismissal a hollow victory.

"Red Shirt" supporters of the government meanwhile threaten to rally to defend it and to press for elections, raising fears of clashes. They will mass on Saturday in a Bangkok suburb.

Trouble Ahead?

"This is a war of legal attrition," said Paul Chambers of the Institute of South East Asian Affairs at Chiang Mai University.

"And the arch-royalists (anti-government forces) are winning it. They are cutting away at the Puea Thai government slice by slice, hoping to exhaust it into submission," he said predicting fresh legal cases against the new premier.

The kingdom has been bitterly split since 2006 when an army coup deposed former telecom magnate Thaksin as prime minister.

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

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

But he is loved in the poorer north and northeastern regions and among the urban working class for recognizing their burgeoning political and economic aspirations.

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

In a defiant press conference Yingluck reiterated her innocence of the abuse of power accusation.

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