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Thai military ruler says authorities searching for ex-prime minister

Thai military ruler says authorities searching for ex-prime minister

Thailand's junta chief today ordered border checkpoints to be beefed-up after ex-prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra failed to turn up at a court date that could have seen her jailed, sparking rumours she has fled the country.

Former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra became a fugitive of the law Friday when she failed to appear to hear the verdict in her malfeasance trial.

He said the court would seek permission for an arrest warrant for the former prime minister, adding that verdict has been rescheduled to September 27.

Unlike her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who fled the country and was convicted in absentia on corruption charges, Ms. Yingluck has remained in Thailand and fought the charges against her. "I really wanted to see her, but I respect her decision".

"The Thai prime minister has done her best, she has sacrificed a lot", said Seksan Chalitaporn, 64. Yingluck could end up being like Thaksin, unable to return home for the foreseeable future.

"Even when Thaksin fled the country, his supporters stayed with him", said Yasuhito Asami, a professor at Hosei University in Japan, noting that Thaksin's parties have won every election since 2001. It's not clear whether she has fled.

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She pleaded not guilty to the charges, saying she was 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 majority poor, and the elites of the capital whose generals have taken power. Hundreds of her supporters have turned up outside the Supreme Court in Bangkok ahead of the verdict, amid a heavy police presence. It certainly boosted her political support among rural populations, where the Shinawatras support base is strongest, but her government's purchase of rice at above market prices backfired when the market collapsed. Given Ms Yingluck's popularity and the ongoing mourning period for the deceased king, it was deemed unlikely that the court would issue a guilty verdict, one expert following the case said.

"I was told at 8am that she was sick from Meniere's disease and felt vertigo, so she asked the court to postpone", her lawyer Norawit Larleng told reporters outside the court.

The trial is the latest chapter in a decade-long struggle by the nation's elite minority to crush the powerful political machine founded by Shinawatra's brother, Thaksin, who was toppled in a 2006 coup. "If she's not here, what does that tell you?" Shinawatra's lawyer said the politician was unwell. "Will she still say that she didn't get justice?"

Some of Ms Yingluck's supporters outside the court on Friday expressed understanding at her failure to show. Yingluck's supporters were reportedly moved on throughout the week as they tried to set up a camp outside the court. One year later, she was impeached by the military-appointed legislature over the controversial rice scheme, which saw the government paying farmers almost twice the market rate for their crop.

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