A state of emergency in Bangkok could be extended until protests against the government end completely, Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said yesterday, adding that he feared more violence even though the protests had subsided.
Protests aimed at overthrowing Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra are in their fifth month, but at the weekend the remaining demonstrators closed down several big protest sites and moved to a central Bangkok park.
“If Suthep continues with his protest and there are more violent incidents, including grenades thrown, shootings and acts of violence by provocateurs, the emergency law will have to stay until the situation improves,” Surapong told reporters.
The protests are led by Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister in a government led by the Thai Democrat Party, now the main opposition party.
“We will wait for security forces, the army and the Cabinet to decide before the emergency expires on March 22,” Surapong said.
The Thai government imposed the 60-day emergency in Bangkok on Jan. 21 to prevent an escalation of the protests ahead of a general election on Feb. 2, which nevertheless was disrupted.
The demonstrations are the latest chapter in a conflict that has gripped Thailand for eight years and broadly pits Bangkok’s middle class, southern Thais and the royalist establishment against mostly rural supporters of Yingluck and her brother, ousted former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thai Labor Minister Chalerm Yoobumrung, who is in charge of enforcing the state of emergency, said the protests were unlikely to end soon and the demonstrators were banking on intervention by courts widely seen as hostile to Yingluck to bring down her government.
“The protests will go on for a while because Suthep has not reached his target ... but I don’t believe he can reach his goal so demonstrators are waiting for some sort of intervention by independent organizations,” Chalerm told reporters.
Yingluck faces several legal challenges, the most immediate threat coming from charges of negligence relating to a disastrous rice subsidy scheme that has run out of funds, prompting unpaid farmers to demonstrate in Bangkok.
Yingluck has been given until March 14 by the Thai National Anti-Corruption Commission to defend herself. It will then decide whether there is a case to pursue and, if it goes ahead, she may be forced to step down.
Under emergency rule, public gatherings of more than five people are banned and Thai security forces have the right to detain suspects for more 30 days without charge, but a court ruling last month limited the state’s powers to disperse protesters.
Representatives from business organizations, including the Stock Exchange of Thailand and the Tourism Council of Thailand, have urged the government to reconsider the emergency law, saying it had affected tourism and other sectors.