Thailand yesterday extended a state of emergency imposed in about a third of the country during recent bloody political protests, saying anti-government elements continued to pose a threat.
The protests, mainly involving supporters of ousted Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra turned violent in April and May. Ninety people were killed and almost 2,000 wounded. Calm has been restored but the government says some in the “Red Shirt” movement may attempt to provoke further trouble.
“We have been informed there are people who continue to try to spread false information to spur hatred and instigate unrest,” said Ongart Klampaiboon, minister to the prime minister’s office.
Ongart, speaking after a Cabinet meeting, said the state of emergency would be lifted in five provinces that have seen little political activism, but would continue in Bangkok and 18 of the country’s 76 provinces for another three months.
Critics say that while the government calls for reconciliation between deeply divided political blocs, it is stifling opposition with arrests, censorship and emergency rule.
Businesses, tour operators and rights groups have called for the special law to be dropped.
“The government could justify it in times of violence but now that it is over, civil rights should be restored. Threats should be dealt with using normal law,” said Niran Pithakwatchara of the National Human Rights Commission.
The Brussels-based International Crisis Group said on Monday that Thailand should lift the emergency immediately or frustration could lead to more violence.
Anti-government activists say the law is being maintained to help the military stop the opposition regrouping.
“As long as the decree is in place, we cannot regroup. It’s too risky even for a low-key provincial gathering,” said Somyos Preuksakasemsuk, an activist briefly detained in May.
Opposition lawmaker Jatuporn Prompan, the only main Red Shirt to be released on bail after the protesters were dispersed on May 19, said his supporters were unlikely to regroup this year.
“I told our supporters to bide their time. Just keep breathing and stay out of harm’s way,” he said in an interview.
Apart from Bangkok, emergency rule covers much of the north and the northeast, bastions of support for Thaksin, ousted in a 2006 military coup and accused by the authorities of instigating two months of protests by his red-clad supporters. Many of these are rural and urban poor, but they also include academics, left-wingers and pro-democracy activists.
They say an undemocratic royalist- and military-linked establishment unfairly forced their champion from power.
Thaksin and several protest leaders were accused of terrorism after shadowy gunmen mingled with demonstrators and battled security forces on Bangkok’s streets, raising the specter of civil war.
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