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Martial Law to Continue in Parts of Thailand


Thailand's military leadership says some provinces in the country will remain under martial law, in spite of opposition parties' demand for restrictions to be lifted. As Chad Bouchard reports from Bangkok, the move is seen as a way to limit campaigning as elections draw closer.

The military council that overthrew Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra last year said Monday that martial law would be extended indefinitely in some areas.

In January the government lifted martial law in 41 of the country's 76 provinces.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University, says opposition parties and pro-democracy groups are calling for restrictions to be lifted before elections in December.

"The campaigning season needs to begin. In order to have a free and fair election as Prime Minister Surayud has promised, they have to think about lifting martial law," he said. "Half of the country's provinces have still been under martial law. Not to lift the martial law means we will not have a fair election."

The military ousted Mr. Thaksin a year ago, after months of public protests over alleged corruption and abuses by his government. Surayud Chulanont was installed as prime minister, and the government drafted a new constitution that makes it harder for any political party to dominate the parliament.

The military said martial law would be maintained in areas bordering Burma because of security concerns. There are fears that Burma's crackdown on recent protests could create a refugee flow into Thailand.

But Thitinan says the military government appeared to be extending restrictions in the northern provinces, which have strong ties to ousted Prime Minister Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai Party.

"The Burmese crisis has not exacerbated the refugee problem that much, so I think that the border concerns are secondary," he said. "Primarily they want to ensure that the Thai Rak Thai Party is not resurrected in a strong fashion in parliament."

National elections are scheduled for December 23.

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