Updated: 02/18/2014 18:17 | By Agence France-Presse

Thai PM faces charges as clashes leave three dead

Thailand's embattled premier will be charged with neglect of duty, anti-graft officials said Tuesday, as clashes between police and opposition protesters left three dead and dozens wounded in central Bangkok.

Thai PM faces charges as clashes leave three dead

Thai anti-government protesters run from tear gas after police demanded for them to leave the area around the Government House in Bangkok, on February 18, 2014 - by Pornchai Kittiwongsakul

The National Anti-Corruption Commission said that if found guilty of the charges -- which relate to a controversial rice subsidy scheme -- Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra could be removed from office.

The announcement came hours after gunfire and explosions shook an area of the city's historic district just a short walk away from major tourist attractions, as riot police moved to clear sites of protest rallies.

A policeman was shot dead and two civilians were killed, according to the Erawan emergency centre. Nearly 60 other people were injured, including one foreigner.

The protesters have staged more than three months of mass street rallies demanding Yingluck's resignation.

Police launched another operation to reclaim besieged government buildings and clear rally sites in the capital Tuesday, tearing through razor wire and sandbag barricades near the city's Democracy Monument.

They met fierce resistance from protesters and were eventually forced to retreat amid volleys of gunfire. It was unclear who was shooting.

"The government cannot work here anymore," said a spokesman for the protesters, Akanat Promphan. "The will of the people is still strong. The government is trapped. It has no way forward."

Around 150 opposition demonstrators were arrested at a different rally site at an energy ministry complex in the capital on charges of violating a state of emergency -- the first mass detentions during the current protests began.

Thailand has been periodically rocked by mass demonstrations staged by rival protest groups since a controversial military coup in 2006 that ousted then-premier Thaksin Shinawatra -- Yingluck's brother.

Fourteen people have died and hundreds have been injured in political violence linked to the latest round of rallies.

- Years of rival protests -

Yingluck's opponents say she is a puppet for her brother Thaksin, a billionaire tycoon-turned-politician who fled overseas in 2008 to avoid jail for a corruption conviction.

The protesters are demanding Yingluck hand power to a temporary, unelected government that would carry out reforms to tackle corruption and alleged misuse of public funds before new elections are held.

Pro-Thaksin parties have triumphed at the ballot box for more than a decade, helped by strong support in the northern half of the kingdom. 

But many southerners and Bangkok residents accuse Thaksin and his sister of using taxpayers' money to buy the support of rural voters through populist policies such as the rice farm subsidy scheme.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission said Yingluck had ignored warnings that the flagship rice policy was fostering corruption and causing financial losses. It summoned her to hear the charges on February 27.

Demonstrators have blocked major intersections in a self-styled "shutdown" of the capital, although attendance has dropped sharply compared with December and January -- when at the peak tens, or even hundreds, of thousands of people took to the streets.

Yingluck's government held a general election on February 2 to try to ease tensions but the opposition boycotted the vote, saying it would not end the long-running political crisis.

Demonstrators prevented 10,000 polling stations from opening in the election, affecting several million people.

Yingluck's brother Thaksin is hated by many in the kingdom's royalist establishment who see him as a threat to the monarchy, at a time of anxiety over the health of 86-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Some observers say that behind the street protests, a clash is unfolding over who will be running the country when the revered but ailing monarch's more than six-decade reign comes to an end.

The deployment of security forces has revived memories of a military crackdown on mass pro-Thaksin "Red Shirt" rallies in 2010 under the previous government that left dozens dead. 

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