Sat, Apr 25, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Thai prime minister lifts emergency as new protest looms

AFP , BANGKOK

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday lifted a state of emergency imposed in Bangkok after violent protests, but said troops would remain deployed amid opposition plans to take to the streets again.

Abhisit said he had ended 12 days of emergency rule to show the world that the troubled kingdom was stable and to foster reconciliation with supporters of ousted former leader Thaksin Shinawatra.

“We will send a signal to the international community that normalcy has been restored,” Abhisit said at his offices in Bangkok's Government House, which were at the epicenter of the protests by the pro-Thaksin “Red Shirts.”

He declared an emergency in the capital and five surrounding provinces on April 12, a day after demonstrators forced the cancelation of a summit of Asian leaders in the coastal city of Pattaya.

Two people were killed and 123 injured as protesters fought running battles with troops across Bangkok for two days, before finally dispersing on April 14 in the face of a threatened military crackdown.

Tensions also rose a week ago after an assassination attempt in Bangkok on the founder of the anti-Thaksin “Yellow Shirts” movement, Sondhi Limthongkul, who led a crippling blockade of the capital's airports last year.

Abhisit said he was confident that the international community would accept that it was “crucial to maintain troops” in areas where there was still public concern and where police were overstretched.

Thailand's image as a “Land of Smiles” for tourists has taken a major hit from the recent disturbances, with flag carrier Thai Airways reportedly suffering a 20 percent drop in bookings since the emergency was imposed.

The Red Shirts announced soon after the emergency was lifted that they would stage a rally today at a central Bangkok park, instead of at a venue they had initially planned outside the capital.

“I hope some 5,000 people will rally with us. We will disperse at 11pm and have no plan to move to anywhere,” organizer Somyot Pruksakasemsuk said.

The largest rally by the group attracted 100,000 people early this month.

“The main reason that we switched the rally to Bangkok was because the government has already lifted emergency rule,” he said.

The group said it would demand the release of Red Shirt leaders held under emergency laws and the reopening of its radio station, but unlike earlier Bangkok rallies there would be no phone-in from Thaksin himself.

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