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Protests escalate in Thailand

SHERRYLYN CLARKE, [email protected]

Protests escalate in Thailand

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BANGKOK (AP) – Hundreds of riot police attempted to clear out anti-government protest sites around Thailand’s capital today, triggering clashes that left four people dead and 64 others injured.
Multiple gunshots were heard near the prime minister’s offices, where riot police had started to remove protesters and dismantle a makeshift stage. Witnesses said shots were fired by both sides.
Police later withdrew.
In another blow for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the state anti-corruption agency accused her today of improperly handling an expensive rice subsidy scheme, putting her in jeopardy of being impeached.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission said Yingluck’s government proceeded with the scheme despite advice from experts that it was potentially wasteful and prone to corruption. The government has been months late in making payments to farmers for the rice they pledged to sell at above-market prices.
The commission said Yingluck has been called to formally hear the charges on February 27. If it decides to submit the case to the Senate for possible impeachment, Yingluck will immediately be suspended from performing her official duties pending a Senate trial.
Yingluck’s elected government has been attempting to avoid violence to keep the powerful military from stepping in. Thailand has been wracked by political unrest since 2006, when Yingluck’s brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted by a military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. Since then, his supporters and opponents have vied for power, sometimes violently.
Erawan emergency medical services said three civilians and a police officer died and 64 others were injured in today’s clashes, including a journalist working for Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV.
Department of Special Investigation chief Tharit Pengdit told a news conference that the protesters had launched grenades at the police.
The violence erupted after police moved into several locations around the city to detain and remove protesters who have been camped out for weeks to press for Yingluck’s resignation. They want the formation of an unelected people’s council to implement reforms to end corruption and keep the Shinawatra family out of politics.