Page last updated at 12:43 GMT, Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Thailand government extends special security powers

Thai riot police in Bangkok (23 March 2010)
The act's extension covers Bangkok and two neighbouring provinces

Special security powers have been extended for another week in Thailand, where thousands of anti-government protesters are encamped in the capital.

The cabinet-approved Internal Security Act allows the security forces to impose curfews and set up checkpoints.

The demonstrators, many of whom support exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, have held a series of rallies aimed at forcing new elections.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has said he will not bow to ultimatums.

Last week, members of the "red-shirt" movement spattered their own blood outside the government's headquarters in Bangkok, the prime minister's private residence, and the offices of his Democrat Party.

'Public well-being'

The decision to extend the Internal Security Act was taken at a cabinet meeting held inside a heavily-guarded ministry complex on the outskirts of Bangkok.

We think it has been an effective tool. Without it, I think the situation over the last seven or eight days would have been different
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva

The BBC's Rachel Harvey in the capital says Mr Abhisit, who has been sleeping at an army base since the mass anti-government protests got underway 10 days ago, clearly does not feel ready to return to his own office just yet.

The act allows the security forces to set up checkpoints, impose curfews and limit movement under the overall command of the military if needed.

It was originally enforced across eight provinces nationwide to prevent violence, but the extension only covers Bangkok and two neighbouring provinces.

"We think it has been an effective tool. Without it, I think the situation over the last seven or eight days would have been different and therefore we still need this tool to achieve our objective," Mr Abhisit told reporters.

After the prime minister left the cabinet meeting, two small blasts near the ministry complex caused minor damage to three cars.

Red-shirt rally in Bangkok - 22 March 2010
Attempts to broker talks between the protesters and government have failed

Tens of thousands of anti government protestors remain encamped in the historic old quarter of Bangkok, where they plan to hold another rally intended to shut down the city on Saturday. A protest last weekend drew about 65,000 people.

The protesters have sought to distance themselves from Mr Thaksin - who lives abroad having fled a two-year jail sentence for a conflict of interest case - painting themselves as fighters for democracy against entrenched elites.

They say Mr Abhisit came to power illegitimately in a parliamentary vote after a pro-Thaksin government was forced to step down. Mr Thaksin was ousted as prime minister in a military coup in 2006.

Our correspondent says attempts to broker talks between the protest leaders and the government have thus far failed.

The red-shirt movement is developing into an extended war of attrition, she adds.

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