Thai premier lifts state of emergency in Bangkok

April 24th, 2009 - 10:20 am ICT by IANS  

Abhisit Vejjajiva Bangkok, April 24 (DPA) Thai Prime Minster Abhisit Vejjajiva Friday lifted the state of emergency he had imposed 12 days ago on Bangkok and surrounding provinces to quell anti-government protests.
Abhisit announced early Friday at the end of a two-day joint session of the lower and upper houses of parliament that he had decided to lift the state of emergency to show the government’s sincerity in seeking national reconciliation.

Small groups of a soldiers posted at various sensitive locations throughout the capital had been withdrawn from the streets Friday morning.

“I think Abhisit has seen that the situation is under control and therefore lifted the state of emergency,” Army spokesman Colonel Sansern Keowkhamnerd said.

Abhisit declared a state of emergency in Bangkok and its neighbouring provinces April 12 in response to anti-government protests that derailed a regional summit to be held in the beach resort town of Pattaya and the threat of ongoing demonstrations in Bangkok.

On April 13, the army launched a crackdown on the United Democratic Front against Dictatorship (UDD), the red-shirted protesters who support ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, sparking a violent response that included the burning of buses, threats to ignite gas trucks and clashes between demonstrators and Bangkok residents.

The riots were quelled by April 14, when UDD leaders called off their protests and surrendered to authorities. The key organizers of the protests remain under arrest, and warrants have been issued for others including Thaksin.

Abhisit’s government claims only two people died in the crackdown, both of them victims of the UDD, and 123 were injured.

The two-day joint parliamentary session held Wednesday and Thursday allowed the opposition Puea Thai party, which supports the UDD, to show video of troops beating protesters and firing at the demonstrators.

Puea Thai claimed that several protesters had died in the crackdown, although conclusive evidence was not provided.

There have been calls to set up an independent committee to investigate the claims.

Although the latest mayhem in the streets of Bangkok have arguably discredited the government’s political nemesis, fugitive former premier Thaksin who has been living in self-exile but continues to battle for a political comeback from abroad - it has also put pressure on Abhisit to take measures to start a process of “national reconciliation”.

Abhisit has mooted the idea of an amnesty for hundreds of politicians who have been banned from politics by the constitutional court, under stiff penalties for election fraud in Thailand’s military-sponsored 2007 constitution.

He has also proposed studying constitutional amendments and not ruled out the possibility of dissolving parliament and calling for new elections.

But his hands are tied by his chief political supporters, including the military and establishment figures who helped draft the 2007 constitution, analysts said.

“I think Abhisit’s window for reform an accommodation is fast closing,” Thai political scientist Thitinan Pongsudhirak said.

Thitinan and other observers have warned that the “red rage” needs to be assuaged.

The protestors have legitimate causes beyond their calls for a return of Thaksin, a divisive figure in Thailand who has antagonized the establishment and at one point called for a “people’s revolution.”

“The UDD factions have one thing in common - fighting for a democratic constitution,” said Chaturon Chaisaeng, a former leader of the now defunct Thai Rak Thai party, founded by Thaksin. “They want a democratic constitution and a general election that will deliver a government not dependent on any independent institutions,” Chaturon said.

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