Thai government eases martial law

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Thailand's interim government has voted to accept a recommendation by the military leaders to partially lift martial law, the defence minister says.

Boonrawd Somtat said the emergency powers would be lifted in 41 of the country's 76 provinces, as suggested by coup leader Sonthi Boonyaratglin.

Martial law would remain in areas still considered unstable, mostly along the borders, Mr Boonrawd added.

Martial law has been in place since the coup on 19 September.

The decision now goes to King Bhumibol Adulyadej for his final approval.

Mr Boonrawd told reporters that martial law would remain in 35 provinces "due to both domestic and foreign security concerns, as well as concerns about drug smuggling and illegal immigration".

"Martial law will remain in some provinces on the borders and some areas in the interior of the country," he added.

He said the emergency powers would be lifted in Bangkok and nearby provinces "because we care about the international community and tourism".

But they will remain in Chiang Mai and two other towns in northern Thailand, where support for ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is strongest.

'Positive impact'

Coup leader and army commander General Sonthi Boonyaratglin recommended on Monday that martial law should be lifted in parts of the country.

"Everybody wants to see peace and order in our country and the lifting of martial law will have a positive political and psychological impact," he said.

The new government has struggled to gain international recognition, not least because of its refusal to end the martial law, the BBC's Jonathan Head in Bangkok says.

But in practice few Thais have felt the restrictions, which have been applied sparingly, and there have been relatively few protests against martial law.

The fact martial law remains in place in pro-Thaksin areas suggests the military is still nervous about a possible come-back by the former prime minister, who has been touring a number of nearby countries recently in a blaze of media publicity, our correspondent adds.