Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Emergency decree stays

PM calls on cooperation from all sides, is open to public debate

(Nation Multimedia) - Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday said the state of emergency would remain in place even though the authorities had managed to bring the anti-government protests to a peaceful end.

"The situation has been eased and is almost back to normal. But the mission of the emergency decree has not been completed. The government will not be careless, and we will be closely monitoring the situation," he said in a televised national address.

Abhisit said military officers, police and civil servants would remain on alert for possible attacks on public utilities.

He also declared tomorrow and Friday public holidays, extending this year's Songkran break to 10 days. The long holiday began last Friday when the government designated it a public holiday after red shirts blocked Victory Monument and caused traffic chaos in Bangkok.

The prime minister said the two extra days off would allow relevant officials to clean up the mess left behind by the riots on Monday and the two weeks or so of rallies around Government House.

He explained the authorities needed time to remove possible harmful objects and the charred debris of public buses.

Abhisit's televised address yesterday evening came after red-shirt leaders abandoned their positions around Government House around midday. The protesters were surrounded by troops supported by crowds of angry civilians fed up after several days of bedlam.

The PM said he regarded the peaceful end of the turmoil "a victory for all of society" rather than a win-or-lose situation for any particular person.

He called on those unhappy with the present political system to become engaged in public debate and help find solutions for the ongoing political conflicts.

"You don't have to hold protests in the streets. I invite all groups to discuss political solutions for our country to move forward and the benefit of everyone in our society," the premier said. "It is time we restored our country. We will have to overcome all of the difficulties together."

Protest leaders Veera Musigapong, Weng Tochirakarn and Natthawut Saikua yesterday surrendered when security forces advanced towards the last major protest site. Two other key leaders - Jakrapob Penkair and Jatuporn Promphan - were not found there.

The Criminal Court yesterday also issued arrest warrants for fugitive Thaksin Shinawatra and 13 protest leaders for inciting violence and assembling illegally during a state of emergency, which was declared on Sunday.

Most red-clad protesters yesterday afternoon boarded some 50 buses provided by the state to take them to bus terminals, so they could return home upcountry. Others drove their vehicles parked near the protest site.

Smaller groups of protesters held noisy gatherings at a few locations in the city, such as Sanam Luang. They no longer wore red but told passers-by that troops had used live bullets during Monday's crackdown - a claim Army spokesman Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd said was untrue.

He said the military would be on alert in all Bangkok districts following intelligence reports of possible acts of sabotage.

A public opinion poll conducted by Rajabhat Suan Dusit University among 1,207 people between Monday and yesterday found 64 per cent of the respondents were satisfied with how the government dealt with the rioters.

In a related development, the international ratings agency Standard and Poor's has lowered Thailand's local currency rating from "A" to "A-", saying the outlook was negative and could be downgraded further, Associated Press reported yesterday. The country's foreign-currency rating was left unchanged at "BBB+" with a negative outlook.

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