Court halts Thai use of force, protest ban

Move comes day after 5 killed in clash with Bangkok police; prime minister to face corruption charges over rice scheme

A Thai court ordered the government Wednesday not to use force against protesters who are seeking the prime minister's resignation, a day after violent clashes between riot police and demonstrators left five people dead.

The Civil Court ruled that some orders issued by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and a special security command center under an emergency decree were illegal because they would violate the protesters' constitutional rights.

The prohibited orders included bans on gatherings of five or more people and the use of certain roads by the demonstrators. 

The court refused, however, a protester's request that it revoke the state of emergency — saying it was within the executive branch's power to enforce such a law. The Cabinet declared a state of emergency in the Bangkok area on Jan. 21 after protesters threatened to shut down the capital by blocking key intersections and occupying government offices.

Protesters seeking to oust Yingluck rallied at her temporary office on Wednesday, but the premier stayed away from the potential flashpoint to prevent further tensions, the military said.

A senior security official told Reuters that police would not attempt to retake more protest sites after Tuesday's "Peace for Bangkok Mission" saw the deadliest clashes since the anti-government demonstrations began in November.

Problems continue to mount for Yingluck after an anti-corruption agency filed charges against her on Tuesday over a rice subsidy scheme that has stoked middle-class anger and left hundreds of thousands of farmers, her natural backers, unpaid.

Demonstrators also vowed Wednesday to target businesses owned by Yingluck's wealthy family.

"Wherever she is, wherever she sleeps, we will go after her," protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban told the crowd. "(We) must intensify our fight, and we will attack Shinawatra businesses and their funding sources."

Tuesday's violence erupted after police moved into several locations around Bangkok to detain and remove protesters who have been camped out for weeks to press for Yingluck's resignation. Hundreds of riot police attempted to clear out protest sites around the capital, triggering clashes that left dozens injured and hundreds arrested.

The Erawan Medical Center, which monitors Bangkok hospitals, said on Wednesday that one police officer and four protesters had been killed and 65 wounded. Emergency medical services had earlier put the death toll at four, including a journalist for Hong Kong's Phoenix TV.

The protests are the latest installment of an eight-year political battle broadly pitting the Bangkok middle class and royalist establishment against the mostly rural supporters of Yingluck.

Thailand has been racked by political unrest since 2006, when Yingluck's brother, then–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.

Yingluck called snap elections in December and has since led a caretaker administration with limited powers. The elections took place on Feb. 2, but the main opposition party boycotted them, and protesters disrupted them in parts of Bangkok and the south, the power base of the opposition. It may take several months before there is a quorum in parliament to elect a new prime minister.

The military has remained aloof from the latest crisis but has a long history of intervening in politics, generally in support of the Bangkok establishment, which includes the top brass, royal advisers and old-money families.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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