Thailand's prime minister was ordered to step down Wednesday along with part of her Cabinet after the Constitutional Court found her guilty in an abuse of power case, pushing the country deeper into political turmoil.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was charged with abusing her authority by transferring a senior civil servant in 2011 to another position. The court ruled that the transfer was carried out to benefit her politically powerful family and, therefore, violated the constitution - an accusation she has denied.
"Transferring government officials must be done in accordance with moral principle," the court said in its ruling, read aloud on live television for almost 90 minutes. "Transferring with a hidden agenda is not acceptable."
"The Constitutional Court has ruled unanimously that (Yingluck) has used her status as the prime minister to intervene for her own and others' benefits to (transfer) a government official," which violated Article 268 of the Constitution, and ended her rule as prime minister, the court said in its verdict.
It was not immediately clear who would become the new acting prime minister. The ruling also forced out nine Cabinet members who the court said were complicit in the transfer of National Security Council chief Thawil Pliensri.
The judgment marks the latest dramatic twist in Thailand's long-running political crisis. It was a victory for Yingluck's opponents who for the past six months have been engaged in vociferous and sometimes violent street protests demanding she step down to make way for an interim unelected leader.
But it does little to resolve Thailand's political crisis as it leaves the country in limbo - and primed for more violence. Since November, more than 20 have been killed and hundreds injured.
The ruling also casts doubt on whether new elections planned for July will take place, which would anger Yingluck's mostly rural supporters who have called for a major rally Saturday in Bangkok.
It also remains far from clear whether her opponents will be able to achieve other key demands, including creating a reform council overseen by a leader of their choice that will carry out various steps to rid the country of corruption and what they claim is money politics, including alleged vote-buying.
The campaign against Yingluck has been the latest chapter in Thailand's political upheaval that began when her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted by a 2006 military coup after protests accusing him of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for constitutional monarch King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Since then, Thaksin's supporters and opponents have engaged in a power struggle that has on occasion turned bloody.