Thai PM: Too soon to end emergency rule

Abhisit Vejjajiva talks of fears of fresh unrest in weekly TV speech

BANGKOK - Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday said that it was too early to lift a two-month-old state of emergency in place across about one-third of the country, including Bangkok, because of fears of fresh unrest.

"We have to accept that even though the situation seems to be normal now, the problems of terrorism and security still exist," Mr Abhisit said in his weekly television address.

He added that the government was "reviewing the appropriate time to lift the state of emergency".

He told global leaders, however - while on his first overseas trip since the end of crippling anti-government protests - that Thailand had bounced back from the unrest.

"We are back, stable and secure," he told the World Economic Forum on East Asia held in Vietnam.

Mr Abhisit invoked emergency rule in Bangkok last month, banning public gatherings of more than five people and giving broad powers to the police and military.

While the mass rally by the anti-government Red Shirts in Bangkok ended following a deadly army crackdown on the protesters' encampment on May 19, the strict emergency laws remain in place.

There are concerns by human rights campaigners that the government's use of the sweeping emergency powers lacks transparency and violates freedom of expression.

More than 300 suspects have been jailed under the emergency decree, according to the Justice Ministry. One of the detainees, political activist Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, is still being held without charge at a Thai army base two weeks after turning himself in to the police.

Mr Somyot, the editor of a magazine that supports the Red Shirts, held a news conference on May 21 at which he called on Mr Abhisit to resign and vowed to continue the opposition movement's struggle. A day later, an arrest warrant was issued for him under the emergency rule.

The Netherlands-based Clean Clothes Campaign is calling for Mr Somyot's release, saying it is "seriously concerned" for the health and safety of the labour and rights advocate, who is believed to be in solitary confinement. AFP

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