Feb. 20 (Bloomberg) -- A Thai court ordered the government not to use force to contain demonstrations aimed at ousting Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, a day after clashes left five people dead and injured at least 69.
The Civil Court yesterday ruled that protests that began Oct. 31 have been peaceful and a state of emergency isn’t needed, according to a statement. It stopped short of ordering the government to cancel an emergency decree imposed Jan. 21.
The decision came a day after the police said they were attacked with grenades and guns while attempting to clear a protest zone in central Bangkok, and provides a new obstacle to Yingluck’s efforts to retain power. The Election Commission yesterday raised doubts that results from a Feb. 2 vote could be announced before a constitutional deadline, and the premier also faces allegations that she was negligent in overseeing a rice subsidy program, which could lead to impeachment proceedings.
“It was protesters dispersing police,” Chalerm Yoobamrung, the government minister overseeing the response to the protests, told reporters yesterday. “It’s clear that they lied when they said this is a peaceful protest without weapons.”
The demonstrators led by former opposition party powerbroker Suthep Thaugsuban have refused to negotiate with the government, saying the protest won’t end until an unelected council is put in place to reform what they say is a corrupt political system. Sixteen people have been killed in protest violence, according to the Bangkok Emergency Medical Service.
Protesters staged demonstrations yesterday outside the office of the Permanent Secretary of Defense on Bangkok’s outskirts and a government command center in the north of the capital after vowing to trail Yingluck. The premier and members of her caretaker Cabinet weren’t at either location, defense ministry spokesman Surachart Chittchang said.
Five people were killed and 69 injured in a clash on Feb. 18, the Bangkok emergency center said. Other protest sites at key intersections in downtown Bangkok were unaffected. The number of people attending daily rallies in areas blockaded by protesters has dwindled in recent weeks.
The Civil Court ruled that measures approved under the emergency decree, including limits on the size of public gatherings and the use of certain roads, infringed on the constitutional rights of protesters. It was unclear how the ruling may affect the caretaker government’s ability to contain the protests or disperse demonstrators.
Thailand has been without a fully functioning government since December, when Yingluck called an election to help end the protests. She has said the demonstrators should go home and allow elections to determine the nation’s political future.
Suthep’s former party, the Democrats, boycotted a Feb. 2 election and protesters kept voting from taking place in some areas, meaning the ballot is incomplete and Yingluck remains in a caretaker role. The past five elections have been won by parties linked to Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted as premier in a 2006 coup.
Suthep faces a murder charge for authorizing the army to use live ammunition to disperse pro-Thaksin protesters in 2010, when he was deputy prime minister. Courts have also issued warrants for Suthep linked to the most recent rallies, including one on a charge of insurrection, which carries a penalty of life imprisonment or death.
By-elections will be held on March 2 in five provinces where voting was disrupted on Feb. 2, Election Commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn told reporters yesterday. By-elections earlier scheduled for April 20 and April 27 were canceled on concern results wouldn’t be finalized in time to meet a constitutional deadline, Somchai said.
The commission will wait for guidance from the Constitutional Court before scheduling by-elections for Bangkok and some southern provinces, he said.
Yingluck and her ruling Pheu Thai Party face a number of legal challenges to their rule, including an investigation into the subsidized rice purchasing program at the heart of their populist platform. The opposition alleges the program has benefited politicians more than rural communities.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission said Feb. 18 that testimony and other evidence showed that as head of the national rice policy committee, Yingluck was aware the program could lead to massive amounts of corruption. It said that corruption has occurred at all stages of the program, from purchasing to stockpiling, selling and payment.
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