Thailand yesterday said it would lift a state of emergency in Bangkok and three neighboring areas, seven months after a bloody military crackdown on anti--government “Red Shirt” protests.
“The state of emergency will be lifted tomorrow and we will return to normal law,” Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said.
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 Red Shirts 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 Dec. 19 marking seven months since the crackdown on the protests attracted about 10,000 people.
However, government -spokes-man Suphachai Jaismut 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.
Another government spokesman, Panitan Wattanayagorn, said that emergency rule could be reimposed if existing security measures were deemed insufficient.
The government has come under pressure from the US 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 Red Shirts accuse the government of being an undemocratic elite and were campaigning for immediate elections.
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The laws have already been revoked in many areas, but were maintained in the capital as well the provinces of Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani and Samut Prakan in the light of a series of mostly minor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 today.
Sunai Phasuk, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the decision to lift the emergency decree was “long overdue.”
“When we look at the consequences of the state of emergency, so much damage has been done to human rights in Thailand, to the rule of law,” he said.