Thai ex-PM flees country on key court hearing, arrest warrant issued

Ousted Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra has fled the country ahead of a verdict against her in a negligence trial brought by the junta that overthrew her, sources close to the Shinawatra family said on Friday.

The Supreme Court set a new date of September 27 for the verdict, and said it would seek an arrest warrant for Yingluck as it did not believe her excuse that she could not attend the court hearing because of an ear problem.

She is the younger sister of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a military coup in 2006.

Before Yingluck's trial kicked off, some had speculated whether she would follow her brother's footsteps and leave the country. She is a former prime minister and some officials might have helped her if she is running away. As news spread, many said they did not believe she was taking flight.

"If she has fled people would not trust her, but the masses would still support her because they benefited from her policies", 38-year-old delivery man Sakunchai Muenlamai.

She has pleaded not guilty to the charges, saying she is the victim of a "subtle political game".

"We want justice to be respected", she added, denouncing the cleavage within the thai society between supporters of Shinawatra, rice farmers and a lot of them poor, and the elites of the capital whose generals have taken power.

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In a Facebook post on Thursday Yingluck asked her followers to stay home to avoid any incidents stoked by people with "ill-intention against the country and us".

But she stepped out of his shadow, displaying a unexpected resilience as protesters besieged her home and opponents clobbered her with a raft of court cases.

Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan said "it is possible" that she had fled Thailand.

Since Thaksin's five year prime ministership, the country's political landscape has been split into the red shirts - Thaksin government supporters; and yellow shirts - royalist, nationalist and urban middle class protesters who adopted the colour associated with the revered Thai king to protest Thaksin's alleged corruption. "If she's not here, what does that tell you?" The new king, Maha Vajiralongkorn, signed a new constitution in April - the nation's 20th constitution in 85 years - that entrenched the authority of the ruling generals and monarchy. But Yingluck and her aides have insisted she respects the justice system and would contest her charge to the end.

Hours before she was to appear in court, more than a thousand supporters gathered outside.

Aside from the court case, the military government has also ordered Yingluck to pay 35 billion baht in compensation to the state to cover the losses from the scheme, under which critics say farmers were paid an inflated price for their rice. Thaksin has remained overseas ever since, alternating between residences in at least London, Dubai and Hong Kong.

It's only the latest political drama for Yingluck and her very political family.

  • Megan Austin