BANGKOK (AP) - A court ousted Thailand's prime minister on Wednesday for abuse of power, accomplishing what anti-government demonstrators have sought to do for the past six months and further widening the country's sharp political divide.
Supporters of deposed Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra called for a huge rally Saturday to protest the ruling by the Constitutional Court, which exercised powers laid out in a constitution written by a military government after a coup in 2006.
The leader of the anti-government protesters, Suthep Thaugsuban, meanwhile, told his followers that they would stage a "final offensive" on Friday and would achieve their goal of fully ousting the government.
The court found Yingluck guilty of abusing her power by transferring the National Security Council chief 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 others in their posts, including Deputy Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, who was appointed the new acting leader.
Yingluck appeared on television two hours after the verdict to thank her supporters, emphasize that she was an elected leader and assert her innocence.
"We held true to the principles of honesty in running the country, and never acted corruptly, as we were accused," said Yingluck, 46, who swept to power nearly three years ago as the country's first female prime minister.
During the past six months, Yingluck's supporters, the Red Shirts, have generally steered clear of provoking her opponents, who have been blocking government ministries and conducting street protests in the capital. Still, more than 20 people have been killed and hundreds injured since November in sporadic gunbattles, drive-by shootings and grenade attacks.
Red Shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan said Saturday's rally will be a show of strength, but that further attempts to dislodge the government will be met with force.
"Our stance has been clear," he said. "If an illegal prime minister steps in, we will fight. If there's a coup, we will fight."
Thailand's long-running political crisis began in 2006 when Yingluck's brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted by a military coup after protests that accused him of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
A military government after the coup rewrote the constitution, giving extensive powers to the courts and to agencies outside the Cabinet's authority in an attempt to reduce executive and legislative power.