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Thai government declares state of emergency as protests drag on

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[January 21, 2014]  By Pracha Hariraksapitak

BANGKOK (Reuters)  The Thai government on Tuesday declared a 60-day state of emergency to start on Wednesday, saying it wanted to prevent any escalation in more than two months of protests aimed at forcing Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from power.

The decree, which applies to Bangkok and surrounding provinces, gives security agencies the power to impose curfews, detain suspects without charge, censor media, ban political gatherings of more than five people and declare parts of the capital off-limits.

"We need it because the protesters have closed government buildings, banks and escalated the situation, which has caused injuries and deaths. The government sees the need to announce the emergency decree to keep the situation under control," Labor Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung told a nationally televised news conference.

The government had no plans to try to disperse protesters during the night, he added, without elaborating.

He was speaking after a cabinet meeting which had to be held at air force headquarters in the north of Bangkok because the protesters have for weeks prevented Yingluck using her offices in Government House.

The protests, now in their third month, have closed off parts of the capital in the latest installment of an eight-year political conflict that has seen sporadic outbreaks of violence.

The protests pit the middle class and royalist establishment against the mainly poorer supporters of Yingluck and her brother, ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled by the military in 2006.

The protesters want to suspend what they say is a democracy commandeered by the self-exiled billionaire Thaksin, whom they accuse of nepotism and corruption, and eradicate the political influence of his family by altering electoral arrangements.

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In a potentially worrying development for Yingluck, whose power base depends heavily on rural support, some farmers have threatened to join the protesters if they do not get paid for their rice vote.

A scheme under which farmers are guaranteed an above-market price for their rice has been a centerpiece of the government's program but, as financing strains mount, some are complaining they have been waiting three or four months to be paid.

The protests are also beginning to undermine Southeast Asia's second biggest economy.

On Monday, the Thai subsidiary of auto giant Toyota Motor Corp, and one of Thailand's biggest foreigner investors, said it might reconsider a $600 million spending plan and even cut production if the unrest drags on.

And some economists expect the central bank will be forced to further cut interest rates when it meets on Wednesday to give a lift to the economy.

(Additional reporting by Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat and Panarat Thepgumpanat, writing by Alan Raybould and Jonathan Thatcher)

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