The Thai government has agreed to lift a state of emergency in Bangkok and surrounding provinces, eight months after it was imposed during sometimes violent anti-government protests in the capital.
But the government of prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva will retain extraordinary powers, including the right to hold suspects without charge for up to a week, under a new security act that it says is needed to control anti-government groups.
Deputy government spokesman Supachai Jaisamut said the current security situation no longer justified the strict control imposed during April riots by Red Shirt protesters, who camped for weeks in a zone fortified by wooden stakes and tyres in the heart of Bangkok.
But the government has said it feels that Thailand’s continuing political turmoil justified another strict, though less powerful, security law.
“The cabinet has decided to lift the emergency decree and replace it with the Internal Security Act,” Mr Supachai said.
Occasional protests have continued since the army cracked down on the Red Shirt encampment on May 19. During the demonstration’s final weeks, rolling clashes between troops and Red Shirt protesters killed 90 people and wounded more than 1,400.
A state of emergency was initially declared in April in Bangkok after demonstrators broke into the parliament building to press their demands for early elections. It was later extended to cover almost one-third of the country’s 76 provinces and has gradually been lifted in most locations except Bangkok and three surrounding provinces.
A state of emergency allows the government to impose sweeping restrictions on civil liberties. It allows authorities to declare curfews, ban public gatherings, censor and ban publications and detain suspects without charge for up to 30 days. Government officials acting under the decree cannot be investigated for wrongdoing or brought to court.
Critics said the decree was selectively enforced and used to harass government opponents.
The Internal Security Act allows authorities to hold suspects without charge for up to seven days. It also allows for curfews and restrictions on freedom of movement in situations deemed harmful to national security.