- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 6, 2010

BANGKOK (AP) — The Thai government on Tuesday unexpectedly extended a state of emergency in the capital and 18 provinces in the wake of bloody, anti-government demonstrations that pushed the country close to chaos. The special law was lifted in five provinces.

The Cabinet agreed that there remained “situations that require close monitoring and surveillance” in Bangkok and the 18 provinces — mostly in the northeast, home to many of the so-called Red Shirt demonstrators who occupied the commercial heart of the capital for weeks, Minister to the Prime Minister’s Office Ongart Klampaiboon told reporters. The measure was extended for three months.

Though sporadic violence has continued in the country since the end of the demonstrations, expectations rose that the decrees would be lifted in large swaths of the country after Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Sunday that such a move was likely.

On Tuesday, he said the “Cabinet has examined province by province and identified five provinces where the state of emergency would be lifted. These provinces are not problematic.”

Support for the Red Shirts in these five, including one in the north and another in the central plains, is not particularly strong.

The Cabinet resolution challenged a proposal by the key security agency, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, urging that the decree remain in force without exception.

A state of emergency was initially declared in Bangkok and in some nearby provinces on April 7 and later extended to cover almost one-third of the country’s provinces.

Nearly 90 people — most of them protesters — were killed and more than 1,400 were injured during nine weeks of massive demonstrations, which ended when the army moved in on May 19. The Red Shirt movement is made up mostly of urban and rural poor, democracy activists and politicians loyal to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup on corruption allegations.

International human rights groups have criticized the emergency decrees, which give the prime minister power to overrule any state agency, civilian or military. One of the most contentious provisions allows officials to arrest and detain individuals for up to 30 days outside the normal criminal justice system.

“Thailand has never seen this kind of situation,” said Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher for the New York-based Human Rights Watch. “A large number of protesters have been detained but no one knows the exact figures, or even their whereabouts.”

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