THAILAND: Thailand lifts martial law in 41 provinces

Unlike Thaksin's CNN interview, coup leader Sonthi's interview will be broadcast

Bangkok Post
Friday, January 26, 2007

Bangkok --- Thailand has officially lifted martial law in 41 of its 76 provinces, including Bangkok, junta leader General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin said on Friday.

Sonthi, in an interview with CNN, revealed that the royal decree endorsing the partial lifting of martial law had recently "come down" from Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, sources who attended the interview said.

The interview was expected to be aired on CNN at 7 p.m. Friday.

Thailand's military-apppointed cabinet on November 28, last year, passed a bill calling for the partial lifting of marital law but the decree had to await the signature of King Bhumibol, who is head of state under Thailand's constitutional monarchy, before being put into effect.

Martial law was imposed after the Thai military staged a coup d'etat on September 19, 2006, to oust former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

After a spate of bombings in the capital on New Year's Eve, that killed three people and injured another 42, many speculated that martial law would be kept in place indefinitely.

The lifting of martial law was one of the "benchmarks" set by the European Union as a return to democracy in Thailand after the coup.

CNN interviewed Sonthi on Friday after irking the Thai junta, which calls itself the Council for National Security (CNS), by interviewing former premier Thaksin, who has been in exile since the coup, last week for its Talk Asia show.

Local broadcasts of the Thaksin interview on CNN were blocked, in keeping with the junta's instructions to Thai TV stations and radio to avoid publicizing the former premier's interviews to avoid national disunity.

The CNS, after the coup, promised to draft a new constitution and hold a general election within a year.

They appear to be keeping to their timeframe.

Somkid Lertpaitoon, secretary to the 35-member Constitution Drafting Committee, said Friday that the final draft of the new charter would be ready by July 6. Work on drafting the new constitution, Thailand's 17th since 1932, began on Friday.

Pro-democracy groups in Thailand hope that the Constitution Drafting Committee will adopt a new charter that is similar in content to the 1997 constitution, deemed the country's most liberal to date, but with slight amendments that would prevent one man or political party from gaining complete control over the country's democratic process, as Thaksin nearly did.

Surayud Chulanont, a respected former army commander-in-chief who was appointed prime minister by the junta on October 1, has hinted that the next election will be held before the end of September, this year.

Surayud, at a meeting with Election Commission officials on Thursday, told them to get ready for a general election some time before September 30, the Bangkok Post reported.

The CNS and its appointed government have been under pressure form the international community to meet their self-set deadline of returning power to the people within a year of the coup.

Thailand has experienced 24 coups d'etat and attempted coups and written 16 constitutions since the overthrow of the absolute monarchy in 1932.