State of emergency begins in Thailand

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Associated Press

Posted on January 22, 2014 at 1:04 AM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 22 at 2:05 AM

BANGKOK (AP) — Protesters vying to overthrow Thailand's government stayed on the streets Wednesday despite the start of a state of emergency in the capital that was imposed to cope with the nation's increasingly violent political crisis.

The emergency decree announced late Tuesday allows authorities to ban public gatherings, impose curfews and censor local news reports for the next 60 days.

But the government said it would not crack down on demonstrators who have seized several patches of Bangkok, and life in the city continued as normal with tourist sites unaffected and no major deployment of extra security forces.

The state of emergency follows increasing attacks at protest sites for which the government and the protesters blame each other. Grenade attacks on Friday and Sunday killed one man and wounded more than 60 people alone, bringing the casualty toll since November to at least nine dead and 554 hurt.

The unrest has cast doubt over whether Feb. 2 elections, which Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra called to quell the crisis, will be held.

On Wednesday, the Election Commission was expected to request the Constitutional Court to issue a ruling on how and whether the ballot can be delayed.

Charupong Ruangsuwan, caretaker Interior Minister, told The Associated Press the vote should go ahead and the Election Commission should not use the state of emergency as an excuse to postpone the poll.

"They can use any excuses all they want, but their duty is to hold the election," he said. "They may accuse the government of causing problems, but the government doesn't have any problems."

The emergency decree appeared to embolden the demonstrators. Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban vowed late Tuesday to continue demonstrating and questioned whether the declaration was justified, saying the protesters had been peaceful.

"Come and get us!" he cried.

"Whatever they warn us not to do, we will do," he declared. "We will march on the routes they ban. ... If they order us not to rally, we will be here indefinitely."

The protesters have been demanding Yingluck's resignation to make way for an appointed government to implement reforms to fight corruption, which they say must be implemented before any vote. The opposition Democrat Party, closely aligned with the protesters, is boycotting the polls.

The protesters charge that Yingluck's government is carrying on the practices of Thaksin Shinawatra, her billionaire brother who was prime minister from 2001 to 2006, by using the family fortune and state funds to influence voters and cement its power. Thaksin was ousted by a military coup in 2006 after protests accused him of corruption and abuse of power. He fled into exile in 2008 to avoid a two-year prison sentence for a conflict of interest conviction.

Deputy Prime Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said Suthep's protesters "have constantly violated the law, especially in closing down government offices and banks and harassment against civil servants to prevent them from working."

He added the demonstrators "had gone overboard, and attacks were carried out by ill-intentioned people, causing people to be injured and killed, affecting the country's stability."

Deputy army spokesman Col. Winthai Suvaree said the military would support the government and supply forces as needed.

In Washington, the State Department said the U.S. strongly condemns increasing violence, and urged Thai authorities to investigate the attacks and bring those responsible to justice.

"It is unfortunate that the situation has gotten to the point where the government felt it was necessary to invoke an emergency decree. We urge all sides to exercise restraint," spokeswoman Marie Harf said Tuesday.

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Associated Press writers Jinda Wedel in Bangkok and Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.

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