Thailand's ruling junta has lifted martial law after getting an approval from King Bhumibol Adulyadej to do so. The nation's coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha says he wants to invoke a controversial new order instead.
"We have lifted martial law around the country," the junta said in a televised statement on Wednesday.
"There is no need to use martial law anymore ... The king has allowed martial law to be lifted from April 1," said a Royal Gazette statement.
Thailand's ubiquitous military staged a coup against former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on May 22 last year after months of political turmoil and violent protests in the capital Bangkok that killed more than 30 people.
On Tuesday, Thai Prime Minister and junta leader, Prayuth Chan-ocha, said he sought the 87-year-old Thai king's permission to lift the 10-month-old martial law. Prayuth, who is also head of the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), aims to replace the Martial Law Act of 1914 with Article 44 of the 2014 interim constitution, which would give the military-installed PM absolute authority over all aspects of the government, and would absolve him of any legal responsibility for his actions.
Article 44 will allow also the Southeast Asian country's military to "catch anyone and hand them over to an investigation team," to support investigations and to search buildings in the interests of national security, according to the statement.
'In the same boat'
Critics say that the replacement of the martial law with new special security measures will make the army's grip on Thailand even tighter.
"From the outside, the lifting of martial law is good news for business and tourism," Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist and director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, told Associated Press. "But from the inside, we are functionally in the same boat… Similar restrictions are still in place. And where there are pockets of dissent and political expression it is likely to be more draconian," he added.
Earlier, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights and seven other rights groups warned that the use of Article 44 would grant Prayuth "absolute powers... over the legislative, the administrative and the judiciary."
"The world won't be fooled. This is a deepening of dictatorship," said Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch.
The junta, however, says that the imposition of Article 44 was only to deal with security problems.
"Don't worry," Prayuth told reporters after a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday. "If you are not doing anything wrong, there is no need to be afraid."
Prayuth has promised to return power to an elected civilian government, but only after reforms to fight corruption and limit the power of political parties become part of a new constitution.
shs/jil (Reuters, AP, dpa, AFP)