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    Feb 27, 2014

    Yingluck leaves capital as tension worsens


    GUNMEN opened fire near several opposition protest sites in Bangkok yesterday, stoking tensions in the capital as Thailand's embattled prime minister flew to her political stronghold in the north.

    A dangerous new chapter appears to have been opened in a nearly four-month political crisis that has left 22 people dead and hundreds wounded, with almost daily reports of gunshots and grenade blasts in the capital recently - often targeting protesters.

    Police said unknown gunmen fired sporadically early yesterday for around an hour in three areas of Bangkok where demonstrators are camped out alongside upscale shopping malls and luxury hotels.

    Nobody was wounded.

    Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has been summoned by an anti-graft panel to hear charges of neglect of duty in connection with a rice subsidy scheme that the opposition says is rife with corruption.

    If found guilty she could be removed from office and face a five-year ban from politics.

    Ms Yingluck flew to the northern city of Chiang Rai yesterday to inspect government-backed projects, saying she might not attend the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) hearing.

    "I have not yet made up my mind," she told reporters when asked if she would face the panel.

    NACC commissioner Vicha Mahakhun said Ms Yingluck's lawyer had informed the panel that he would represent her at the hearing. "If she doesn't show up, we can send the documents by registered mail," he said.

    Officials denied that the premier was on the run from protesters, who have vowed to pursue her wherever she goes and have besieged state buildings where she has held Cabinet meetings since the occupation of her headquarters in December.

    "She is not avoiding the political situation in Bangkok," said Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunt.