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Ousted Thai PM proclaims innocence as criminal trial starts

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THAILAND'S ousted prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra insisted on her innocence Tuesday at the start of a trial that could see her jailed for a decade, part of what observers say is a vendetta against her family.

It is the latest legal move against Yingluck -- sister of fugitive billionaire ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra -- whose administration was toppled in a military coup nearly a year ago.

A guilty conviction could deliver a hammer blow to the political dominance of her family, but it also risks stirring up their grassroots "Red Shirt" supporters who have remained largely inactive since the military took over.

Around 50 supporters gathered outside Thailand's Supreme Court on the northern outskirts of Bangkok including more than a dozen members of Yingluck's Pheu Thai Party, a highly unusual sight in a country where political gatherings of more than five people remain banned by the junta.

Many burst into applause and shouts of "Yingluck, fight, fight!" when her convoy pulled up outside the courthouse for the trial, which is expected to last months.

"I am confident that I am innocent and I hope the court will give me justice and allow everything to proceed in accordance with the law," Yingluck told reporters.

The ousted premier is accused of criminal negligence over a populist rice subsidy scheme, which paid farmers in the rural Shinawatra heartland twice the market rate for their crop.

She is not accused of personal corruption but of failing to prevent alleged graft within the programme, which cost Thailand billions of dollars and galvanised protests against her elected government prior to last May's coup. The charge carries up to 10 years in jail.

During the brief hearing, Yingluck spoke only to plead not guilty. The court granted 30 million baht ($900,000) bail on condition that she will not leave Thailand without written permission, and the next hearing was scheduled for July 21.


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