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September 24, 2017

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Ousted Thai prime minister indicted over criticized rice subsidy program

BANGKOK -- Thailand's anti-graft commission indicted ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Thursday on charges of dereliction of duty in overseeing a widely criticized rice subsidy program, a day after a court forced her from office.

Yingluck was accused of allowing the rice program, a flagship policy of her administration, to proceed despite advice that it was potentially wasteful and prone to corruption.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission's action had little immediate consequence following Yingluck's ouster from power a day earlier. But It is likely to further poison a badly polarized political atmosphere. Many of Yingluck's supporters already believe that the country's conservative establishment is bending the rules to take back power.

A consistent string of decisions by the courts and independent agencies such as the anti-graft commission against Yingluck and her political machine has eroded many people's faith in the rule of law, raising the possibility of heightened civil unrest. Grenades were fired Thursday night by unknown people at three targets associated with the royalist establishment.

Rallies planned by Yingluck's opponents for Friday and her supporters for Saturday will be a test of the political volatility.

The government lost billions of dollars on the rice subsidy plan, which also cost Thailand its position as the world's leading rice exporter as the artificially high prices forced the government to stockpile the commodity.

National Anti-Corruption Commission chief Panthep Klanarongran said the commissioners voted unanimously that there were enough grounds to indict Yingluck.

They said Yingluck, as head of government and in her capacity as chairwoman of the National Rice Policy Committee, failed to cancel the rice subsidy scheme despite learning it could pose a great risk to the country's fiscal status.

"The NACC had submitted letters to warn the defendant twice that the project would create problems and incur great losses, as well as allow corruption to take place throughout every step of the scheme," Commissioner Vicha Mahakun told a news conference. "Yet the defendant did not consider suspending the project as soon as she learned about the country's great losses from running the project."

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