Fri, Mar 30, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Thai prime minister rebuffs plea for emergency decree

AGENCIES , BANGKOK

Thailand's army-installed Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont yesteerday rejected calls from the ruling junta to impose emergency rule in Bangkok to crack down on anti-coup protests.

"The current situation is not serious enough to require emergency rule," he said.

"But the government is prepared in case the situation worsens, and I am empowered" to declare a state of emergency, he said.

"The government will try to talk with every party to prevent the situation from deteriorating to that point," he said.

"I don't want to see clashes among Thai people," he said.

Surayud spoke one day after the junta's leader, General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, said that he wanted the government to declare an emergency in Bangkok to crack down on swelling protests for fear the demonstrations could derail the return to democracy he promised by the end of this year.

The request outraged activists.

"A decision to resort to an emergency decree is a serious threat to democracy," said Waeng Tochirakarn, leader of the Confederation for Democracy, which wants an immediate return to electoral politics.

"It destroys fundamental democratic rights and freedom as it empowers government officials to freely carry out house searches, arrests, confiscate printed materials. We will oppose this to the end," he said.

Meanwhile, authorities in Bangkok decided yesterday to close down the Sanam Luang field to prevent anti-coup protesters from staging a rally there this weekend.

Bangkok police, regional military officials and the city government agreed to shut down Sanam Luang until April 5, officials said.

Sanam Luang is a large oval-shaped field near the Grand Palace in Bangkok's old quarter.

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