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Asia-pacific

Prime minister lifts Bangkok state of emergency

Video by James CREEDON

Latest update : 2009-04-24

Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said he wanted to show the world that the kingdom had returned to normal when he lifted the two-week-long state of emergency imposed in Bangkok after violent protests two weeks ago.

AFP - Thai Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva Friday lifted a nearly two-week-old state of emergency imposed in Bangkok amid violent protests, but the government said some troops would remain on the streets.

Abhisit said he wanted to show the world that the kingdom had returned to normal after clashes between troops and supporters of ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra that plunged the capital into chaos.

The prime minister declared an emergency in the capital and five surrounding provinces on April 12 after protesters disrupted a summit of Asian leaders in the coastal city of Pattaya before the demonstrations spread to Bangkok.

"In order to create confidence the extreme emergency situation is lifted at midday (0500 GMT) today -- but it doesn't mean that the security measures must end too. The government is still coordinating with security agencies," he said.

"It's the government's duty to uphold peace in our country and we will send a signal to the international community that

normalcy has been restored," Abhisit said at his offices, which were at the epicentre of the protests.

Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn confirmed that soldiers would stay in place in certain areas and said they may be armed -- not just equipped with anti-riot gear.

"In this case the soldiers are to oversee overall security, not under the emergency and only if requested by police," he said.

Abhisit initially announced that he would lift the emergency after a parliamentary debate on the bitter political divide with the so-called "Red Shirt" movement largely loyal to Thaksin.

The Red Shirts dramatically scaled up their protests by forcing the cancellation of the summit of leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and regional partners in Pattaya on April 11.

Two people were killed and 123 injured as protesters clashed with troops in Bangkok for two days after Abhisit declared emergency rule, before finally dispersing on April 14 in the face of a threatened military crackdown.

But business leaders had called for the emergency to be lifted as soon as possible.

State-controlled flag carrier Thai Airways had a 20 percent drop in bookings -- mainly from Asian countries -- since the emergency was imposed, the Nation newspaper reported.

"Lifting the state of emergency is part of measures to find a solution for the country. The government wants to show its sincerity, that the government wants reconciliation and to make the country move forwards," Abhisit said earlier.

Authorities have issued warrants for the arrest of Thaksin -- who was toppled in a military coup in 2006 and lives in exile -- and 12 other allies for allegedly inciting the protests in Pattaya.

A new Red Shirt rally is planned for Saturday in Samut Sakhon province, 36 kilometres (22 miles) outside Bangkok.

On Monday, Jakrapob Penkair, a senior Red Shirt leader, told AFP from an unknown foreign location that the group would continue their campaign against Abhisit.

The Red Shirts want Abhisit to quit and call elections, saying that the Democrat Party leader came to power unfairly in December after a court toppled Thaksin's allies from power.

Police are meanwhile still hunting the gunmen behind an assassination attempt on Sondhi Limthongkul, the founder of the rival "Yellow Shirts" movement which led a blockade of Bangkok's airports last year.

Thai army chief Anupong Paojinda admitted Thursday that three bullets used in the attack came from a military unit.

Date created : 2009-04-24

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