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Turbulent Thailand

Thailand to extend virus emergency decree as protests swell

Activist human rights lawyer arrested on sedition charges

Students use their mobile phones as flashlights to show support for pro-democracy protests in Bangkok on Aug. 19.   © Reuters

BANGKOK -- The Thai government indicated Wednesday it will extend its state of emergency through September in response to the country's first locally transmitted coronavirus case in nearly three months, fueling speculation that it seeks to clamp down on spreading protests.

This would mark the fifth extension of the decree, which has been in place since late March and is now set to last until the end of August. The cabinet will officially approve the move within the next few days.

The apparent first case of community transmission in 86 days was a woman who returned from Dubai in June and traveled to her hometown in northeastern Thailand after a 14-day quarantine. She tested positive in Bangkok on Tuesday before a planned trip abroad for work.

The decision comes against the backdrop of the massive student-led demonstrations of recent months. A gathering Sunday at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok drew between 20,000 and 30,000 people, according to organizers, which would make it one of the largest anti-government protests since the 2014 coup that brought Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha into power.

Some observers suspect that Prayuth's government looks to use the extended state of emergency to crack down on political gatherings. Somsak Rungsita, secretary-general of the National Security Council, denied in a Wednesday news conference that this is the case.

Anon Nampa, one of the leaders of recent anti-government protests, is detained by a police outside the criminal court in Bangkok on Aug. 19.   © Reuters

Also on Wednesday, Anon Nampa, a human rights lawyer who has played a leading role in the protests, was arrested on sedition charges, Reuters reported.

Anon was previously arrested Aug. 7 over an Aug. 3 protest, but was released on bail the following day. He continued to participate in anti-government demonstrations, calling for Prayuth's cabinet to resign and parliament to be dissolved.

Anon also urged reform of Thailand's powerful monarchy -- a taboo in a country with strict lese-majeste laws.

The previous arrest sparked outrage among Anon's supporters, and Wednesday's could bring more protesters into the ranks.

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