Thai emergency rule relaxed

Controversial laws to calm dissent are lifted in more parts of the country, but restrictions remain in the capital.

    The government says some restrictions, like censorship of websites, will remain to keep the peace [Reuters]

    Thailand has lifted a state of emergency in some more parts of the country, with the exception of its capital, a government spokesperson said.

    Panitan Wattanayagorn said on Friday the lifting of the decree would take effect "immediately" in the three northeastern provinces.

    But he added that the emergency laws will remain in Bangkok and in nearby Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani and Samut Prakan.

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    The Thai government has come under pressure from the US and human rights activists to roll back the emergency powers in the wake of recent unrest.

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

    They were introduced in early April, in response to the mass anti-government rallies by the "Red Shirt" movement, which left 91 people dead.

    Abhisit Vejjajiva, Thailand's prime minister, lifted the decree in Nakhon Ratchasima, Khon Kaen and Udon Thani - the northeastern stronghold of the Reds. 

    'Vicious cycle'

    As for Bangkok, a string of grenade blasts in recent weeks has raised security concerns.

    A grenade was thrown into the compound of the attorney general's office in Bangkok on Monday. A bombing in a residential area wounded three people last Friday.

    The Red Shirts deny any involvement in the blasts and have accused the government of a conspiracy to justify greater powers for authorities.
     
    The government argues that widespread restrictions on dissent remain essential for keeping the peace.

    Critics assert that the government crackdown, which ranges from arrests to the censoring of thousands of websites, could provoke more unrest by deepening grievances.

    "The extraordinary powers (the decree) grants to curtail human rights have often been abused to block the expression of peaceful dissenting views," Amnesty International said in a statement on Thursday.

    Jacob Ramsay, a senior Southeast Asia analyst at Control Risks, a strategic consulting firm based in Britain, said: "Thailand is in uncharted territory and the government's response to dissent could lead to a bolder display of resistance ... It's a vicious cycle."

    SOURCE: Agencies


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