Anti-coal protest sparks rare Thai junta climbdown

Thailand's military government on Sunday shelved plans to build a coal-fired power station in a popular beach region, a rare success for demonstrators in a country where the right to protest has been severely curbed.

Hundreds of protesters had gathered outside government offices in Bangkok since Friday to demonstrate against the junta's decision to approve an 800-megawatt coal plant on the coast of Krabi, a southern region renowned for its tropical beaches and steep limestone hills.

Three protest leaders were detained on Saturday and held in a barracks prison but released on Sunday in a deal struck with authorities.

In a statement, government spokesman Lieutenant General Sansern Kaewkamnerd said the government had ordered a new environmental impact assessment to decide whether the plant should be built, reversing the cabinet's decision last week to press ahead.

Protesters said they would end their demonstration in response to the announcement.

The gathering was a rare act of defiance of the junta's ban on public protests. Generals seized power in 2014 and have severely clamped down on dissent.

The military government is largely popular in Thailand's south. But some Krabi residents were alarmed at the decision to push ahead with the power station.

The junta says the power plant is desperately needed to combat energy shortages in the south.

Thailand's southern beach regions are a comparatively wealthy part of the country but suck up significant energy resources. Blackouts have become more common.

Krabi protesters say the military government should use renewable energy to plug the gap.

They fear a coal-fired power station could ruin the environment in a country where safety standards are poor and corruption is rampant.