Thai PM Prayuth considering lifting martial law in some areas

BANGKOK - Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha is ready to consider lifting martial law in some parts of the country to help boost a struggling tourism sector and economy, a deputy prime minister said on Thursday.

Thailand's army imposed martial law nationwide in May, days before it took power in a coup that it said was necessary to end months of at times violent street protests aimed at ousting then prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Tourism operators have repeatedly urged the government to scrap the law to restore the country's image as a trouble-free holiday destination and bolster tourist arrivals which dropped 7 per cent in September from a year earlier.

The tourism sector, which accounts for nearly 10 per cent of the economy, suffered its biggest fall in June, a month after the military took power.

General Prayuth last month dismissed calls by tourism operators to lift martial law, citing the danger of trouble-makers disrupting his efforts to promote political reconciliation. But Deputy Prime Minister Wisanu Krue-ngam told reporters the prime minister was reassessing his stand.

"The prime minister is ready to consider lifting martial law in some areas of the country," said Mr Wisanu. "We might be able to lift the law in some provinces and use other laws instead to control the situation." Wisanu did not give a time frame for when the law would be lifted. "The government will consider this when the time is right ... to help the economy and tourism."

Martial law puts national security in the hands of the military and gives it sweeping powers. It also bars political gatherings of more than five people.

The ruling generals and the technocrats they have appointed are trying to put a troubled economy back on its feet.

The Finance Ministry cut its gross domestic product growth forecast for 2014 to 1.4 per cent last month from 2.0 per cent due to poor exports. It also cut its 2015 GDP growth forecast to 4.1 per cent from 5.0 per cent.

The protests were the latest chapter in nearly a decade of upheaval rooted in confrontation between former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Ms Yingluck's brother, and their mostly rural supporters, and the royalist establishment backed by the Bangkok middle class.

Gen Prayuth, who led the coup as army commander-in-chief, has launched a series of campaigns aimed at national reconciliation. He has also repeatedly warned dissidents and opposition groups not to take to the streets.