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Thai rail plan ruled unconstitutional

BANGKOK — A Thai court ruled Wednesday that the government’s ambitious $62 billion plan to build high-speed rail and other transport infrastructure was unconstitutional and must be ended.

The Constitutional Court’s ruling was the latest blow to the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, which has been the target of four months of antigovernment protests. The seven-year transport plan was a centerpiece policy of the ruling party, which won a landslide victory in 2011 elections. Yingluck’s government is now a caretaker administration after early elections in February were disrupted by protests in Bangkok.

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The court sided with the opposition Democrat Party, which had launched the legal challenge saying that a law authorizing the $62 billion of borrowing would raise public debt to unacceptably high levels and reduce transparency by bypassing the annual budget process.

The party’s move came after the Senate last year voted in favor of the bill which would have allowed the Finance Ministry to borrow the money in Thailand and overseas without recourse to the government budget.

Wednesday’s decision included a unanimous ruling that the bill was unconstitutional and a 6-to-2 ruling that the process of drafting it was unconstitutional.

It was expected to stir criticism among Yingluck’s supporters who see the courts in Thailand as sympathetic to the antigovernment movement.

Protesters accuse Yingluck of being a proxy for her brother, the former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The country has been wracked by political unrest since 2006, when Thaksin was ousted by a military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power.

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