Thailand’s martial law will not be lifted for the foreseeable future, the justice minister said yesterday, despite an earlier pledge to lift the law in some provinces to help the tourism industry, which has struggled since a military coup in May.
The announcement comes as Thailand prepares to enter its peak tourism season, over the Christmas and New Year period.
The tourism sector accounts for nearly 10 percent of GDP. Thailand expects about 25 million tourists this year, down 1 million from last year, the government said this month, thanks in part to protests in Bangkok that kept many visitors away.
The army imposed martial law nationwide in May, days before it took power in a coup that it said was necessary to end months of street demonstrations aimed at ousting then-Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
“Martial law is necessary and we cannot lift it because the government and junta need it as the army’s tool,” Thai Minister of Justice General Paiboon Koomchaya said. “We are not saying that martial law will stay in place for 50 years, no this is not it, we just ask that it remain in place for now, indefinitely.”
All political protests are banned under the law, but that has not stopped some university students from staging protests against the junta this week by flashing a three-finger salute, a gesture adopted from The Hunger Games films.
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha yesterday said he was unfazed by people using the three-fingered protest salute to express opposition to the junta.
The salute has become the unofficial symbol of resistance against the army coup, with scores detained for raising three fingers in the air in an act of defiance. The same gesture is used in the fictional movies by rebels fighting against a dictatorial regime.
“I’m not concerned by the three-finger protest,” Prayuth told reporters yesterday.
However, he suggested that those detained for using the salute could face further problems.
“I don’t know whether it is illegal or not, but it could jeopardize their futures,” he said.
His comments came a day after a female university student was detained by plainclothes officers outside a high-end mall in Bangkok for flashing the salute in front of a large publicity poster for the film.
Two male students who did not use the gesture were also taken away for questioning outside a nearby cinema the same day. All three have been released.
Meanwhile, Prayuth, known for scolding journalists, is trying a new tack: patting their heads and tugging their ears.
A video posted on Facebook by Bangkok Post reporter Wassana Nanuam shows Prayuth chatting on Wednesday with reporters in the northeastern city of Khon Kaen. Some journalists kneeled in front of him to allow cameras a clear view.
Prayuth patted the baseball cap-clad head of a journalist directly in front of him, then nonchalantly tugged and twisted the man’s ear as he took questions.
Thai deputy government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd on Thursday said the gesture was good-natured teasing of reporters with whom he has become familiar.
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