Thailand will lift a state of emergency on Wednesday that was imposed eight months ago when Red Shirt protesters overran Bangkok, but the government will retain broad powers to detain suspects and impose order.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said the government felt it no longer needed the sweeping controls imposed during April riots by the anti-government protesters, who camped for weeks in a zone fortified by wooden stakes in the heart of the capital. Clashes between protesters and soldiers left more than 90 people dead.
However, Mr. Abhisit indicated the government was still rattled by continuing political turmoil that some feel could explode again into violence.
“Concerned security officials have to be able to monitor peace and order and be ready to handle any untoward incident,” Mr. Abhisit told reporters after meeting with his Cabinet Tuesday to revoke the emergency decree in Bangkok and three surrounding provinces.
The government will retain extraordinary powers under the Internal Security Act, which Mr. Abhisit called “a normal security law.” Created in 2008 during simmering political unrest, the act allows authorities to hold suspects without charge for up to seven days. It also allows for curfews and restrictions on freedom of movement in situations deemed harmful to national security.
Occasional but growing protests in the capital have continued since the army cracked down on the Red Shirt encampment on May 19. Since then, authorities have used their emergency powers to arrest most of the main Red Shirt leaders and silence anti-government media.
Critics said the decree was selectively enforced and used to harass government opponents.
An estimated 10,000 Red Shirt protesters gathered peacefully in Bangkok on Sunday, and protest leaders have vowed to hold two monthly rallies in the New Year.
Deputy government spokesman Supachai Jaisamut said that recent rallies “were mainly symbolic” and the government did not expect more unrest.
Although the violence has subsided, the Red Shirt movement exposed a deep rich-poor divide in Thailand that remains unsolved.
Discontent has been brewing for years, ever since protests were launched in 2006 accusing then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of corruption and abuse of power.
The military ousted Mr. Thaksin in a September 2006 coup, but he remains popular with his mostly rural followers, who together with democracy activists formed the Red Shirt movement.
A state of emergency was initially declared in April in Bangkok after demonstrators broke into the Parliament building to press their demands for early elections. It was later extended to cover almost one-third of the country’s 76 provinces and has gradually been lifted in most locations except Bangkok and three surrounding provinces.
A state of emergency allows the government to impose sweeping restrictions on civil liberties.
It allows authorities to declare curfews, prohibit public gatherings, censor and ban publications and detain suspects without charge for up to 30 days. Government officials acting under the decree cannot be investigated for wrongdoing or brought to court.
Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said the Cabinet agreed that “if the Internal Security Act is unable to handle the situation, the special (emergency) law will be enforced again.”