Thailand to lift emergency rule in Bangkok

Thailand on Tuesday said it would lift a state of emergency in Bangkok and three neighbouring areas, seven months after a bloody military crackdown on anti-government Red Shirt protests.

“The cabinet has agreed to lift the emergency rule in Bangkok and surrounding provinces, effective Wednesday,” government spokesperson Suphachai Jaismut told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

The controversial laws were introduced in the capital in early April in response to mass rallies by the Red Shirts that ultimately left more than 90 people dead in clashes between demonstrators and the army.

Thailand’s decision to end emergency rule comes as the Reds have promised to step up a new wave of street rallies, with meetings in the capital twice a month.

Despite provisions in the emergency law banning gatherings of more than five people, a demonstration on December 19 marking seven months since the crackdown on the protests attracted around 10 000 people.

But Suphachai said the current situation was peaceful and the government did not expect a resurgence of unrest in the near future.

“The political rallies recently were more symbolic, the Red Shirts have learned their lesson after they used violence,” he said.

Undemocratic elite
The Thai government has come under pressure from the United States and rights groups to roll back the emergency powers to help the country recover from bloody civil violence that has left it deeply divided.

The mainly poor and working class Reds accuse the government of being an undemocratic elite and were campaigning for immediate elections in their April and May demonstration.

Most of their leaders are now in jail facing terrorism charges or in hiding.

At one point, about one-third of the country was under the state of emergency, which gives security forces the right to detain suspects for 30 days without charge.

Authorities have also used their emergency powers to arrest hundreds of suspects and silence anti-government media.

The laws have already been revoked in many areas but were maintained in the capital as well the provinces of Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani and Samut Prakan in the light of a series of mostly minor bomb blasts. Emergency rule in these areas will be lifted from Wednesday.

‘Use brains’
The two-month rally by the Reds, many of whom back fugitive ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, attracted up to 100 000 people demanding snap elections, but was crushed in May in a deadly military assault on their base.

After the crackdown a small group of hardcore protesters set dozens of major buildings ablaze in the heart of Bangkok, including a shopping mall and the stock exchange.

The Red Shirts’ new head, Thida Thavornseth, whose husband Weng Tojirakarn is one of the group’s leaders detained on terrorism charges, has said the Reds would intensify their campaign to secure the release of senior figures.

The retired microbiology lecturer told AFP in a recent interview she wanted the democracy movement to be peaceful and “use brains”. — Sapa-AFP

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