Thai authorities said they will start a corruption investigation into a government subsidy program for rice farmers, in the latest setback for embattled Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
The country's anti-corruption agency on Thursday announced the move. It was welcomed by Thai opposition protesters who have staged days of anti-government demonstrations in Bangkok calling for Yingluck to step down.
Under the program, the government purchased rice from Thai farmers for above market prices. The government is now stuck with large stockpiles of rice it has been unable to sell.
Critics said the program cost the country millions of dollars. They said Yingluck used the initiative to win support among the rural population, which represents the main base of her ruling Pheu Thai party.
It is yet to be seen whether the announcement will breathe life into the opposition protest movement, which is showing signs of losing momentum.
Opposition protesters marched outside government revenue offices in Bangkok on Thursday. Though thousands showed up for the march, and many more remained camped out in key intersections throughout the city, the numbers are dwindling.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban is calling for an unelected people's council to replace the current government, which he said is corrupt and engages in nepotism.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has refused to step down. She insists on holding early elections on February 2, though the opposition has said it will boycott the polls.
This week's protests have been peaceful, as police have largely stayed away and avoided conflict. But the protesters have also been unsuccessful at shutting the government down, as they had planned.
Thailand has experienced regular political turmoil in recent years. The conflict pits Bangkok's urban middle class and royalist elite against the mostly poor, rural supporters of Yingluck and her brother, ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup, remains very influential in Thailand, even though he was convicted of corruption and lives in self-imposed exile.
Yingluck's Pheu Thai party is expected to easily win the February vote, thanks to the popularity of her brother, who remains popular in part because of social welfare programs he enacted.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters