Thailand defends continued emergency rule – Financial Times

By Simon Roughneen in Bangkok

The Thai government on Friday defended its move to extend a state of emergency covering about a quarter of the country, despite criticism of its restrictions on civil rights and the potential impact on reconciliation efforts.

Bank burns on Rama 4 highway, after clashes at the main rally site back on May 19 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Thailand has been peaceful since the army forcibly ended anti-government protests in Bangkok on May 19. By the end, the weeks of street violence had left almost 90 people dead and over 1,000 injured, mostly civilians.

Suthep Thaugsuban, deputy prime minister, on Friday warned of “preparations for anti-government activities” that justified the government’s move this week to retain emergency rule in the capital and 18 other provinces for another 90 days. The Department of Special Investigation, the Thai equivalent to MI5, said it was investigating “an anti-monarchy network” encompassing some opposition parliamentarians and protest leaders.

Some leaders of the protest movement, which was known for its customary “red shirt” attire, were paraded on Thursday clad in prison jump-suits before reporters.

Extended emergency rule has been criticised by civil rights campaigners and legal analysts. “Vague and general future threats and individual criminal acts cannot justify the continued imposition of a state of emergency and the derogation from protected rights,” the International Commission of Jurists, the Geneva-based advocacy group, said on Friday.

Representatives of Thailand’s important tourism industry have queried the extension of the emergency decree, warning it could deter foreign visitors, in part by invalidating some forms of travel insurance.

Despite the decree, Abhisit Vejjajiva, prime minister, is moving ahead with plans to set up two reform panels to advise the government on resolving political and social divisions that have worsened through four years of protests.

The panels are part of a government reconciliation agenda which takes in media oversight, increased social spending and measures to prevent politicisation of the monarchy.

The government has yet to detail its plans, but the reform panels have been given three years to complete their work. Officials have said that reconciliation is necessary before elections, due before the end of 2011, can be held.

Parties affiliated with the red shirts and Thaksin Shinawatra, the fugitive former prime minister overthrown in a 2006 coup, have won all general elections held in Thailand since 2001. Red shirt leaders have criticised the reform panels for including people linked to “yellow shirt” protesters who took to the streets in 2008 to try to oust the previous government, which was sympathetic to Mr Thaksin.

An offer from Mr Abhisit to hold elections on November 14 this year was turned down by red shirt protesters in early May, but the government says it could yet stage early elections, a key opposition demand.

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