During the brief hearing at the Supreme Court, the country's first, and only, woman premier pleaded not guilty to charges of dereliction of duty and abuse of authority in administering the flagship scheme after charges were read out to her as the trial began.
    
The court granted bail to the 47-year-old embattled leader - whose administration was toppled in a military coup nearly a year ago - on condition that she does not leave the country without written permission and fixed the next hearing for July 21.
    
The losses estimated at more than 500 billion baht (around USD 15 billion) were incurred when her government bought rice from farmers at higher than prevailing market prices but failed to resell much of it. In what can further delay the general elections in the politically-divided country, Thailand cabinet and the junta agreed at a meeting today to hold a public referendum on the newly-drafted constitution.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters that the process would take about three months and affect the political roadmap laid out by the junta after the coup. According to critics, the newly-drafted constitution is aimed at preventing Yingluck's elder brother and former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who is on self-imposed exile, to make a political comeback after he was deposed in a 2006 coup.

The Shinawatras, or parties allied to them, have won every Thai election since 2001 but opponents have accused them of corruption and disastrous policies. The family has faced two coups and had three of their premiers removed by courts. In a rare public remark, Thaksin said "the key to good governance and democracy is you have to strike a balance" between the judicial, legislative and executive branches.

"And also you have to observe the rule of law, which is a very important asset for each country to be credible," he said in Seoul at the Asian Leadership Conference, without specifically referring to Thailand.

His sister Yingluck was impeached by the country's military-appointed parliament in January over the rice subsidy scheme and banned her from politics for five years. A guilty conviction that carries a maximum jail sentence of 10 years could upset the political ambitions of her family - the powerful Shinawatra clan.

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