Thailand extends emergency rule

 

Thailand's cabinet extended emergency rule in 19 provinces, including Bangkok, for another three months after using troops to disperse opposition protesters in May.

The Thai government extended today a state of emergency imposed in about a third of the country during recent bloody political protests, citing danger posed by anti-government instigators, a minister said.

Anti-government protests, mainly by supporters of an ousted prime minister, turned violent in April and May. Ninety people were killed and almost 2,000 wounded, raising fears for stability in Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy.

Calm has been restored but the government remains wary, warning that violent elements among the anti-government "red shirt" movement may attempt to rekindle another round of unrest.

"We have been informed there are people who continue to try to spread false information to spur hatred and instigate unrest," Ongart Klampaiboon, minister to the prime minister's office, told reporters.

Mr Ongart, speaking after a weekly cabinet minister reviewed security, said it had been decided the emergency decree would expire in five provinces which have seen little political activism. But it would be extended in Bangkok and 18 of the country's 76 provinces for another three months.

Critics say although the government calls for reconciliation between deeply divided political blocs it is stifling opposition with arrests, censorship and emergency rule. Businesses and rights groups had been calling for the special law, which has unnerved some investors and tourists, to be dropped when it had been due to expire tomorrow.

"The government could justify it in time of violence but now that it is over, civil rights should be restored. Threats should be dealt with using normal law," Niran Pithakwatchara of the National Human Rights Commission told Reuters.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group said on Monday Thailand should immediately lift the emergency or frustration could lead to more violence.

Anti-government activists say the law is being maintained to enable the military to thwart any bid by protesters to regroup.

"As long as the decree is in place, we cannot regroup. It's too risky even for a low-key provincial gathering," said Somyos Preuksakasemsuk, an anti-government activist briefly detained in May.

The three-month extension would make it the longest period Bangkok has been under emergency rule. The law also covers much of the north and the northeast, main bastions of support for Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a 2006 military coup.

Authorities accused Thaksin, a former telecoms tycoon turned populist politician who is living in self-exile, of instigating the weeks of protests by his red-clad supporters. Many of the movement's backers are rural and urban poor, but they include academics and left-wing and pro-democracy activists. They say an undemocratic royalist- and military-linked establishment unfairly forced their champion from power.

Thaksin and several protest leaders were accused of terrorism in connection with shadowy gunmen who mingled with demonstrators and occasionally battled security forces on Bangkok's streets, raising the prospect of a country sliding into civil war.

Thaksin, convicted of graft after he was ousted, denies any connection with the gunmen or financing the protest.

The emergency bans political gatherings of more than five people and forbids the publication and broadcast of information deemed a threat to national security or that could cause panic. It also gives broad powers to the security forces, including the right to detain suspects for up to 30 days without charge.

Reuters