Thai govt bans gatherings of more than 5 people

2014-01-23 19:32
Thai anti-government protesters march in the streets during a rally in Bangkok. (Nicolas Asfouri, AFP)

Thai anti-government protesters march in the streets during a rally in Bangkok. (Nicolas Asfouri, AFP)

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Bangkok - Thailand's government on Thursday announced a ban on gatherings of more than five people as part of the state of emergency imposed on Bangkok for the next 60 days.

The ban on the mass anti-government protests that have been staged in the capital since early November was announced by caretaker Labour Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung, commander of the Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order (CMPO), which was set up on Wednesday to enforce the emergency decree, The Nation online news reported.

"Gatherings of five or more people in areas prohibited by CMPO cannot be done," the announcement said. "Any action that incites disorder cannot be done."

The announcement appeared to contradict claims made by the government on Wednesday that it would refrain from dispersing the protests, which have intensified since 13 January when the demonstrators launched a campaign to shut down Bangkok.

The Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order also invoked the emergency decree's authority to impose censorship on the media.

"News publicity and distribution of newspapers and other publications that will cause public panic or distort information about the emergency situation affecting the peace and order and good morality cannot be done," the centre's order said.

The two clauses are part of an article under the decree that the Foreign Ministry's permanent secretary, Sihasak Phuanggetkeow, had assured diplomats on Wednesday had not been invoked.

"The decree is meant as a deterrent," Sihasak said. "In no way will there be the use of force, and utmost restraint will be the order of the day."

Sihasak acknowledged that one reason for invoking the decree was the government's worries about maintaining security during a snap election set for 2 February.

The strengthening of the emergency decree came after protesters showed defiance of the state of emergency, which applies in the capital and neighbouring provinces.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban led marches on Thursday through Bangkok to drum up support for his campaign, which seeks to a force the resignation of caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her cabinet.

Similar protests were staged on Wednesday.

"The People's Democratic Reform Committee will continue to protest until we succeed in reaching our goals," said Akanat Promphan, spokesperson for the anti-government movement that has occupied seven key Bangkok intersections since 13 January.

It has been demanding the appointment of a new prime minister who would set up an interim cabinet and people's assembly to institute political reforms.

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