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Thai PM Given Emergency Powers as Violence in South Escalates

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has assumed emergency powers to deal with violence in the country's largely Muslim South following an unprecedented series of deadly attacks.

The Emergency Powers Act approved Friday gives Mr. Thaksin the power to order phone taps, censor newspapers and detain suspects without charge.

A Thai soldier looks at remains of a store which was burnt down Thursday by Islamic insurgents in southern Yala province
Mr. Thaksin's cabinet was called into urgent session after coordinated attacks by dozens of militants late Thursday in the southern town of Yala. At least six bombs were set off around town, and gunmen then fired at random and threw gasoline bombs into shops and houses. Two policemen died and more than 20 people were wounded.

Thai government spokesman Chalerndej Jonbunud says the new powers allow the prime minister to place specific regions under emergency law. "In this new act, the prime minister, approved by the cabinet, can announce the area that we're going to use the Emergency Power Act," he said.

Following earlier criticism of the government's tactics in the South, Mr. Thaksin made conciliatory gestures to the region's Muslims. But attacks by militants have continued on an almost daily basis, and more than 800 people have died.