The Thai government yesterday declared a 60-day state of emergency, starting today, saying that it wanted to prevent any escalation in the more than two months of protests aimed at forcing Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from power.
The Hong Kong government raised its travel warning to black - putting Bangkok on a par with Syria - advising against visits to the city.
The emergency decree, which applies to Bangkok and the surrounding provinces, gives security agencies the power to impose curfews, detain suspects without charge, censor the media, ban political gatherings of more than five people and declare parts of the capital off-limits.
"We need it because the protesters have closed government buildings, banks and escalated the situation, which has caused injuries and deaths," Labour Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung said on national television. The government had no plans to try to disperse protesters during the night, he added.
Chalerm was speaking after a cabinet meeting which had to be held at air force headquarters in the north of Bangkok because the protesters have for weeks prevented Yingluck from using her offices in Government House.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, in a speech to his followers, questioned whether the declaration was justified, saying demonstrators had been peaceful. "Is it right for them to use the emergency decree to declare a state of emergency to come and deal with us? Come and get us," he declared to an enthusiastic crowd of hundreds at a park in downtown Bangkok.
The protesters have been demanding the resignation of Yingluck to make way for an appointed government to implement reforms to fight corruption. Yingluck called for the elections on February 2, but the protesters are insisting they not be held.
The opposition Democrat Party, closely aligned with the protesters, is boycotting the polls. The official announcement of the emergency decree said the elections would proceed as planned.
Agence France-Presse, Reuters, Associated Press
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