Thailand prolongs emergency rule over swathes of country

BANGKOK, July 6, 2010 (AFP) - Thailand on Tuesday extended by three months a state of emergency across about one quarter of the country, including Bangkok, due to lingering fears of unrest following deadly protests.

AFP/File – A Thai soldier stands guard in front of a portrait of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej in central Bangkok

The move comes despite warnings from human rights campaigners that the authorities' use of the sweeping emergency powers lacks transparency and suppresses freedom of expression.

The emergency decree, imposed in April after a mass opposition rally began in the capital, will be maintained for three more months in 19 provinces -- out of a total of 76 -- but lifted in five others, officials said.

"The cabinet endorsed the lifting of the state of emergency in five provinces," deputy government spokesman Supachai Jaismut said. "Emergency rule will still be imposed in the rest."

The strict laws ban public gatherings of more than five people and give security forces the right to detain suspects for 30 days without charge.

Two months of mass anti-government protests by the "Red Shirt" movement, pushing for immediate elections, sparked outbreaks of violence that left 90 people dead, mostly civilians, and nearly 1,900 injured.

The government rejected a call from the opposition for the emergency decree to be revoked for a parliamentary by-election in Bangkok on July 25.

A Red Shirt leader detained on charges of terrorism is running in the vote as a candidate for the opposition Puea Thai Party.

Security officials on Monday proposed extending the state of emergency, warning that some weapons seized during the anti-government protests were still missing.

But a leading think-tank, International Crisis Group, voiced concern Monday that the emergency laws had empowered authorities to stifle the anti-government movement and should be lifted at once.

"While the Red Shirts have no opportunity for open and peaceful expression because of draconian laws, their legitimate frustrations are being forced underground and possibly towards illegal and violent actions," ICG said.

Thailand should lift the law "or risk further damaging its democracy, hindering much needed reconciliation, and sowing the seeds of future deadly conflict," the Brussels-based group said in a report.

Enraged protesters went on a rampage of arson after a deadly army crackdown ended their rally on May 19. The unrest also spread outside the capital, particularly in the Reds' stronghold in Thailand's impoverished northeast.

The five provinces where emergency rule will be lifted are Si Sa Ket, Kalasin, Nan, Nakhon Sawan and Nakhon Pathom, scattered around north, northeast and central Thailand.

Other news