By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times
Thai officials proclaimed a state of emergency Tuesday to contain increasingly violent anti-government protesters trying to oust Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and derail an election she has called.
The 60-day emergency state gives the government sweeping powers to impose curfews, ban public gatherings, censor news media and arrest people without charges or warrants, news agencies reported in Bangkok, the capital.
Yingluck’s embattled government needs the emergency measure “to take care of the situation,” said Deputy Prime Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, the Bangkok Post reported.
Labor Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung, who will be in charge of implementing the emergency regimen, said the government had been forced to take on the special powers because the demonstrations that have entered their third month have become violent in recent days, with bomb blasts at gatherings injuring dozens and causing at least one death.
Demonstrators with the anti-government People’s Democratic Reform Committee and Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party have accused each other of staging the detonations to cast the opposition as the threat to democracy.
“We need [the state of emergency] because the protesters have closed government buildings, banks and escalated the situation, which has caused injuries and deaths,” Chalerm told a news conference in Bangkok.
Yingluck told reporters in the capital that police would deal with protesters “in line with international standards” and that she had instructed authorities to be “patient” with the opposition actions.
Issara Somchai, one of the leaders of the anti-government movement, said protests would continue in spite of the declared emergency measures.
The demonstrators took to the streets in November after the government attempted to push an amnesty bill through parliament that would have cleared the way for Yingluck’s brother and former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, to return from his self-imposed exile and resume his political career.
Though the bill failed, the protesters have pressed on with their campaign to force Yingluck to resign and allow an appointed caretaker government to enact reforms before new elections are held.
Yingluck, who is accused by her opponents of being her deposed brother’s proxy, has called a Feb. 2 vote that is sure to give her populist allies a new term in power. Although the opposition has strong support in Bangkok and its more affluent surroundings, Yingluck’s government has counted on backing from the poorer rural areas where state-funded rice subsidies have guaranteed better incomes for farmers.
That support from the countryside may be imperiled, however, as the protracted crisis in the capital has taken its toll on the functioning of government and industry, delaying the agricultural subsidies to some rice producers for the last few months. Some farmers have threatened to join the protest movement unless they are paid their overdue rice subsidies, Reuters news agency reported.
Toyota Motor Corp, one of Thailand’s biggest foreign investors, also has said it might rethink a planned $600 million investment or reduce production at existing facilities if labor and transport disruptions continue, Reuters said.
Demonstrators have blocked government workers from entering their offices and played havoc with traffic as they wage their “Shutdown Bangkok” operation, which began Jan. 13.
Meanwhile, a human rights group’s annual report on the state of civil liberties around the world criticized the Thai leadership for making a bad situation worse.
“By pushing for a blanket amnesty for serious abusers on all sides, the government has not promoted reconciliation, but instead intensified Thailand’s political divide,” Human Rights Watch said in its World Report 2014 released Tuesday.
“Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s promises to bring national reconciliation and justice to victims of the 2010 violence have fallen flat,” the group’s Asia director, Brad Adams, said of the Thai government’s handling of the recurring political crisis. He referred to the scores killed during the clashes three years ago between pro- and anti-Thaksin forces.
Unrest has flared repeatedly in Thailand in the eight years since Thaksin was ousted and sentenced to two years in prison for corruption. The persistent standoff between his supporters and opponents has kept alive the prospect of another military coup to establish order.
The army has attempted or carried out 18 coups over the last 80 years. The chief of staff has said the current situation doesn’t call for military intervention, but he has declined to rule it out if the unrest escalates further.
Photo: A China via Flickr