Bangkok: Thailand`s anti-corruption authorities launched an investigation against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Thursday in a new setback to her government following weeks of mass opposition protests.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission said the inquiry would probe possible negligence of duty by Yingluck in connection with a controversial subsidy scheme for rice farmers.
The panel will charge 15 other people, including a former commerce minister, with corruption linked to the rice programme, commission spokesman Vicha Mahakun told a news conference.
The scheme has been strongly criticised by Yingluck`s opponents, who have occupied major intersections in the capital since Monday as part of their efforts to force her elected government from office and install an appointed "people`s council" in its place.
The protesters aim to rein in the political dominance of Yingluck`s billionaire brother, fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, whom they accuse of controlling the government from self-exile.
Critics say the rice programme was designed to shore up Yingluck`s popularity in her party`s northern heartlands, but has left the country with a mountain of unsold rice.
Yingluck has called an election for February 2 in an effort to defuse the crisis but the main opposition Democrat Party is boycotting the polls, which they fear will only return the Shinawatra family to power.
Police said today the demonstrators` self-styled "shutdown" of Bangkok appeared to be losing momentum with a dwindling number of protesters on the streets.
The rallies are the latest twist of a political crisis that has gripped Thailand since Yingluck`s brother Thaksin was ousted in a military coup seven years ago.
They were triggered by a failed amnesty bill that could have allowed Thaksin to return without going to jail for a past corruption conviction.
The billionaire tycoon-turned-politician has strong electoral support in northern Thailand, but he is reviled by many southerners, Bangkok`s middle class and members of the royalist establishment.
Yingluck is facing several legal moves which experts say could potentially bring down her government.
Dozens of her MPs face possible impeachment by the National Anti-Corruption Commission in connection with a bid to make the upper house fully elected.
If found guilty they could be banned from politics for five years, undermining Yingluck`s chances of forming a new government after the February polls.