The Thailand government today imposed a 60-day state of emergency in the capital and surrounding areas to quell violent protests aimed at forcing embattled premier Yingluck Shinawatra from office.
"The cabinet decided to invoke the emergency decree to take care of the situation and to enforce the law," Deputy Prime Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said.
Yingluck said there was no plan to give the army a leading role under the decree, which will come into force tomorrow.
"That's why we're focusing on the police force, to avoid violence like in 2010," she told reporters.
The emergency decree gives security agencies the power to impose curfew, search, detain and arrest suspects without charge, censor media, ban political gatherings of more than five people and declare parts of Bangkok off-limits.
Yingluck, who signalled her determination to go ahead with the February 2 snap polls, said her government has no intention of confronting the protesters.
"We will use peaceful negotiations with the protesters in line with international standards...We have told the police to stick with international standards, to be patient with the protesters," the caretaker premier said.
The areas covered by the emergency decree have already been placed under tougher-than-normal security under the Internal Security Act.
Caretaker Labour Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung said the government had to invoke the decree because protesters have closed government buildings and banks and escalated the situation, which has resulted in injuries and deaths.
He said demonstrations were not peaceful as claimed by the leaders of the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), the anti-government movement.
"We will not use force. And we haven't announced a curfew yet," Chalerm, who will oversee the implementation of the decree, told a news conference.
A defiant protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, who faces an insurrection charge in connection with the unrest, questioned whether the decree was justified and vowed to keep up the demonstrations.
"Is it right for them to use the emergency decree to declare a state of emergency to come and deal with us? Come and get us," Suthep declared to hundreds of supporters at a park in downtown Bangkok.
"We've been protesting for almost three months with no weapons and empty hands," he said. "We will not stop."
The decree came after weeks of mass rallies in Bangkok that sparked several bouts of violence, including grenade attacks and shootings that the protesters and the government blamed on each other.
The opposition Democrat Party, which supports the protests, has said it will boycott the February 2 snap polls called by Yingluck in a bid to end the unrest. The Election Commission wants the polls to be postponed.
PDRC leader Issara Somchai said the movement would continue its simultaneous rallies in Bangkok despite the state of emergency. "The emergency decree cannot overrule the people's constitutional rights."
Issara said the protests had so far caused no damage that warranted the emergency.
Protesters intensified their months-long agitation last week by launching a "shutdown" of the capital, blockading major roads and occupying ministries in Bangkok.
They have been demanding the resignation of Yingluck and installation of an unelected "People's Council" to carry out reforms before any polls.
Protesters have vowed to rid Thailand of the political dominance of the Shinawatra clan and alleged that Yingluck is controlled by her fugitive brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted in a coup in 2006. He lives in self-imposed exile.
The ongoing unrest, sparked by an amnesty bill that could have facilitated Thaksin's return to the country, has pitted Bangkok's middle class and royalist establishment against the mostly poorer, rural supporters of Yingluck and her brother.
Nine people have been killed and hundreds injured in violence since the protests began in early November.
The political deadlock is the worst since 2010 when thousands of pro-Thaksin "Red Shirt" protesters occupied key parts of Bangkok. Over 90 people, mostly civilians, died over the course of a two-month sit-in.