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Protesters, security forces clash in Bangkok, at least four dead

Feb. 18, 2014 at 9:30 AM   |   Comments

BANGKOK, Feb. 18 (UPI) -- Clashes between Thai security forces and anti-government protesters in Bangkok Tuesday resulted in several deaths, officials said.

As security forces and anti-government protesters fought in the streets Tuesday, Thailand's anti-corruption commission said it would formally charge Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra with mismanaging a rice subsidy program that has lost billions of dollars, the Wall Street Journal said.

If she is found guilty, Yingluck will be suspended from office and then face impeachment proceedings in the Senate.

The months of confrontations have claimed 15 lives and left Yingluck unable to form a new government after protesters prevented the conclusion of the Feb. 2 election.

Hundreds of security forces moved in on the Phan Fa bridge district of Bangkok to disperse protesters who gathered there as part of a larger protest attempt to topple Yingluck's government. The Journal said security forces faced resistance from demonstrators, some of whom were armed.

In a gunfight, one police officer and three protesters were killed, city government officials said, adding that at least 64 people were injured in clashes, the Journal said.

Police arrested nearly 200 people in the area and at another protest site.

The rice subsidy program was begun in 2011. It involved buying grain from farmers at prices up to 50 percent above the market rate and withholding it from the international market in an attempt to push up global rice prices, which didn't happen because other countries filled Thailand's place in the export market, leaving Yingluck's government with paper losses of up to $8 billion, the Journal said.

Recently, the program's costs have skyrocketed and the government is struggling to find enough money to underwrite its remaining obligations before winding down the program later this month.

In a televised address, Yingluck denied corruption in the rice program.

"I must reaffirm the rice pledging scheme is the right policy and there was no conspiracy to corrupt," Yingluck said, adding that she welcomed the anti-graft agency's investigation.

The Bangkok Nation said several rice farmers who had joined the program had yet to receive payment and were facing serious financial difficulties.

Yingluck blamed the payment delay on the protests.

Protesters allege Yingluck's government is corrupt and is controlled by her brother Thaksin -- a former prime minister and a telecommunications billionaire living in exile since his ouster in a 2006 coup. The government denies the allegations.

A new government cannot be formed until fresh elections are held in those constituencies where voting was disrupted on Feb. 2.

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