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Ex-Thai PM denies negligence and asks for 'kindness' at trial

Former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra declared her innocence and asked for "kindness" from a court during her final statement in a criminal negligence trial that could land her in prison for 10 years if she is convicted.

The case centres around a rice subsidy that Thailand's current military government says she grossly mishandled. Yingluck's bank accounts were frozen after an administrative ruling held her responsible for about 1 billion US dollars in losses from the subsidy.

"I beg the court for kindness and please dismiss the charge," Yingluck said in her closing statement, according to prepared remarks. The verdict is to be issued on August 25.

Yingluck's supporters believe she is being persecuted by opponents of her brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup for alleged corruption and disrespect to the monarchy.

The telecommunications mogul has been in self-imposed exile since 2008 to escape a prison sentence for corruption.

His ousting set off sometimes-violent battles for power in Thailand, and supporters say the political establishment opposes Thaksin because his electoral popularity threatens their entrenched privileges.

Yingluck led the last elected government in Thailand before being ousted as prime minister in 2014 when a court ruled that a personnel transfer involved nepotism. The army initiated a coup soon after and a military-led government has remained in power since.

Hundreds of Yingluck's supporters outside the packed Supreme Court in Bangkok on Tuesday shouted: "Prime minister, fight, fight!"

After another court appearance late last month, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the 2014 coup, warned Yingluck's supporters to tread carefully. He said the government would not prevent people from gathering, but that "everyone must show restraint" and let the court decide the matter.

The rice subsidy was a flagship policy that helped Yingluck's party win the 2011 general election. It paid Thai farmers about 50% above what they would have received on the world market, but, instead of driving up prices, the subsidy drove the world's demand for rice to cheaper producers. As a result, Vietnam replaced Thailand as the world's leading rice exporter.

The government bought and stored 13.3 million tons of rice, but exported less than 1 million tons. It cost the government billions of dollars.

Prosecutors in the negligence trial have argued Yingluck ignored warnings of corruption in the subsidy programme.

AP

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