Thailand's state of emergency is extended, criticized

Thailand's state of emergency will continue for another three months, the government decided Tuesday, saying red-shirt protesters remain active. Critics argue the law hinders reconciliation.

By , Correspondent

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    In this March 18 file photo, anti-government demonstrators call out former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's name during a morning rally in Bangkok, Thailand. A state of emergency imposed during anti-government protests has been extended in Thailand.
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Thailand’s government extended its state of emergency Tuesday by three months over a quarter of the country, several weeks after it broke up protracted demonstrations that had provoked sporadic violence and deeply divided the country.

The cabinet extended the state of emergency in Bangkok and 18 provinces while lifting it in five. It had first imposed the emergency law on April 7, after protesters demanding that the prime minister resign descended on Bangkok.

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Rights groups had called for the state of emergency to be ended, but Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said it was still needed because the protesters, known as red shirts, remained active, reports Agence France-Presse. “The government still needs the tools to ensure peace, order and stability for a while," Mr. Abhisit said.

The state of emergency allows the government to detain people without charge for 30 days, bans public gatherings of more than five people, and gives the prime minister power to overrule other government agencies. Under the law, hundreds of protesters have been arrested, though it is unclear exactly how many. The government has also used the measure to shut down antigovernment television stations, websites, and radio stations, reports AFP.

Thailand is struggling to recover from the bloody crisis. Bouts of violence during the two-month protests killed 88 people, mostly civilians, and wounded about 2,000. The red shirts, drawn mostly from rural and poorer northeast, consider the government illegitimate and had demanded early elections. They paralyzed the capital, camping behind barricades and repelling police efforts to remove them. The standoff ended May 19, when government troops raided their stronghold in downtown Bangkok.

Many of the provinces where emergency law was extended are in the northeast. The cabinet said that situations there and in the capital require “close monitoring and surveillance,” the Associated Press reports.

Rights groups say hundreds of activists have been detained under the law, according to the Christian Science Monitor. The government blamed protesters for the violence, calling them “terrorists,” while protesters said that troops killed unarmed civilians.

An opinion piece in The Bangkok Post argues that national reconciliation is not possible while civil liberties are suppressed:

While in public the administration's policy is to build bridges to span the divide that its recent crackdown has only deepened, those who would be needed to be convinced to join this grand national project to make it a success are simultaneously being harassed and detained and spuriously labelled "terrorists."

The country cannot have peace without compromise, fundamental political freedoms, and democracy. Rather than more harsh actions or empty words of reconciliation, the government needs to quickly take concrete steps and make concessions that will prove that its road map would be all-inclusive, participatory and not an imposition.

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