Thai leaders declare emergency rule in response to protests
BANGKOK — The embattled government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra declared the imposition of emergency rule in Bangkok and surrounding areas on Tuesday, suggesting a more aggressive posture toward anti-government protesters who have occupied parts of the city during the past two months and are seeking to overthrow the government.
But officials said they had no plans to crack down on protesters, who have escalated their campaign over the past week by blocking government offices, taking over major intersections and staging daily marches across Bangkok.
The emergency decree enacted Tuesday gives the government the power to invoke curfews, censor the news media, disperse gatherings and use military force to “secure order.”
Surapong Tovichakchaikul, Thailand’s foreign minister, said the move was necessary because protesters had broken the law by blocking government offices and banks in recent days and threatening and harassing government officials. The imposition of the decree will “allow the democratic process and Thailand to move forward,” he said.
Protesters have been attacked by unknown assailants in recent days. Three grenade attacks left one person dead and dozens injured. The government and the protesters have blamed each other for those attacks.
The emergency decree, which is valid for 60 days, was passed under the same law that another government used in 2010 to launch a military crackdown that left dozens of people dead. Underlining the seesaw power struggle that has gripped Thailand for the better part of the past eight years, the man responsible for the crackdown four years ago, Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister, is now leading the anti-government protests.
“I know about this well,” Suthep said to his supporters, discussing the decree. He stepped down from power after his party lost a general election in 2011.
“We will keep fighting until we win,” Suthep said, describing his protest movement as nonviolent and distinct from the “terrorists” who protested against him in 2010.
Suthep, who faces murder charges related to the 2010 crackdown, late Tuesday renewed a threat to shut down Thailand’s air traffic control office, but he also said he would rest on Wednesday for medical reasons.
In recent weeks the government has been lauded by foreign governments, including the United States and European countries, for its restraint in handling the protests. The police have not tried to arrest Suthep despite a court-issued warrant for rebellion against the state.
In addition to the emergency decree, the government on Tuesday put a combative government minister and former police officer, Chalerm Yubamrung, in charge of security. Suthep is trying to disrupt elections scheduled for Feb. 2 that Yingluck and her allies seem certain to win. The opposition Democrat Party, which is allied with Suthep, is boycotting the election.