Thailand cancels emergency decree in bid to calm protests

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha's order banning gatherings was facing a legal challenge

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha speaks on Thai Television pool in Bangkok, Thailand, October 21, 2020. Picture taken October 21, 2020. Thailand Government House/Handout via REUTERS     ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE.
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Thailand's government cancelled the state of emergency declared in Bangkok last week, a gesture the embattled prime minister will hope cools mass student-led protests seeking democratic reforms.

The decree banned public gatherings of more than four people and allowed censorship of the media, among other provisions. It was challenged in court by an opposition party and a group of students.

The revocation of the emergency decree, which came into effect at noon Thursday, declared that the situation had been mitigated and could be dealt with by existing laws.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha went on national TV on Wednesday night to appeal to protesters to reduce political tensions and promised to lift the emergency measure.

“I will make the first move to de-escalate this situation. I am currently preparing to lift the state of severe emergency in Bangkok and will do so promptly if there are no violent incidents,” he said.

As he was speaking, protesters marched near his office, Government House, to demand he step down. They also asked for the release of their colleagues who were arrested in connection with earlier protests.

They said they would return in three days if their demands were not met. Although the protesters pushed their way through police lines, neither side resorted to violence.

Pro-democracy activists march close to Government House, the prime minister's offices during a protest march in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. Thailand's prime minister on Wednesday pleaded with his countrymen to resolve their political differences through Parliament, as student-led protests seeking to bring his government down continued for an eighth straight day. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

The protesters are pressing for a more democratic constitution and reforms to the monarchy.

The implicit criticism of the monarchy stirred controversy because it traditionally has been treated as sacrosanct and a pillar of national identity.

On Wednesday, royalists held rallies in several cities, in many cases led by civil servants, in what they said was defence of the monarchy.

At a small rally in Bangkok, there were fights between anti-government protesters and palace supporters.

Wednesday also marked the eighth straight day of demonstrations by the pro-democracy movement that began in March, even though many top protest leaders have been detained.

Mr Prayuth, pleaded in his speech for his countrymen to resolve their political differences through parliament.

“The only way to a lasting solution for all sides that is fair for those on the streets, as well as for the many millions who choose not to go on the streets, is to discuss and resolve these differences through the parliamentary process,” he said.

On Tuesday, the government approved a request to recall parliament to deal with the crisis in a special session held from next Monday to Wednesday.

“I am appealing to all sides that we must heal injuries now before they become too deep,” Mr Prayuth said.

In this image made from video, a student leader Sugreeya Wannayuwat, center, who led a legal challenge against the emergency decree representing a group of university students, speaks to journalists outside the Civil Court in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. Thailand’s government has canceled a state of emergency it had declared last week for Bangkok in a gesture offered by the embattled prime minister to cool massive student-led protests seeking democracy reforms. The decree had banned public gatherings of more than four people and allowed censorship of the media, among other provisions. It was challenged in court by an opposition party and a group of university students. (AP Photo)

The cancellation of the state of emergency came as Bangkok Civil Court was preparing to rule on motions to revoke the decree on the basis that it illegally curtailed freedom of assembly.

The leader of the opposition Pheu Thai Party's team at the court said on Wednesday that he was not impressed that Mr Prayuth lifted the decree.

“He’s really doing it to protect himself. Why? Because if he didn’t lift the emergency decree today, and the court ordered the temporary protection of the protesters, it would mean all his orders and announcement relating to this were illegal,” said Cholanan Srikaew, a member of parliament.

Separately, the committee supervising the country's fight against coronavirus said the government was renewing for the seventh time a national state of emergency imposed in March. It gives provincial governors powers to restrict gatherings, movement and media reports.

On Wednesday, authorities suffered a legal setback when a judge barred them from introducing orders banning several media outlets because they failed to follow proper procedures.

Police sought to impose censorship on media reporting of the protests, citing what they called “distorted information” that could cause unrest and confusion.

Police want to block access to the websites of four Thai news organisations and one activist group that broadcast live coverage of the protests.

They also proposed a ban on over-the-air digital television coverage from broadcaster Voice TV.