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Thai court orders country's prime minister to step down

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FILE - In this Dec. 10, 2013 file photo, Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra gets emotional after speaking at a press conference, in Bangkok. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup, File) (The Associated Press)

Thailand's prime minister was ordered by a court to step down Wednesday in a divisive ruling that handed a victory to anti-government protesters who have staged six months of street protests -- but does little to resolve the country's political crisis.

The Constitutional Court found Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra guilty of abusing her power by transferring a senior civil servant in 2011 to another position. It ruled that the transfer was carried out to benefit her politically powerful family and, therefore, violated the constitution -- an accusation she has denied.

The ruling also forced out nine Cabinet members but left nearly two dozen other ministers in their posts, including Deputy Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan, who was quickly appointed the new acting leader.

The judgment marks the latest dramatic twist in Thailand's long-running political crisis. It was a victory for Yingluck's opponents, mostly from the urban elite and those in the south, who have been engaged in vociferous and sometimes violent street protests demanding she step down to make way for an interim unelected leader.

However, the ruling leaves the country in limbo and primed for more violence.

It 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. Her ouster will doubtless swell those numbers, and some fear it could lead to more violence.

Since November, more than 20 have been killed and hundreds injured in sporadic gun-battles, drive-by shootings and grenade attacks.

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, 46, has been the latest chapter in Thailand's political upheaval that began when her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a polarizing figure who 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 occasionally turned bloody.