Published January 13, 2015
Thailand's (search) government, reeling from bold attacks by suspected separatists in the Muslim-dominated south, granted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (search) sweeping powers Friday to tap phones, directly command security forces and order curfews.
In new violence, suspected Islamic separatists detonated a bomb that injured four people Friday in the provincial capital of Yala, where militants set off five bombs a day earlier and exchanged gunfire with security forces, killing two policemen and injuring 22 people.
The Cabinet decree was to be forwarded to King Bhumibol Adulyadej (search) for his signature, after which it will become effective, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-Ngam said. It was not clear when royal approval might come.
Friday's violence came despite the deployment of about 1,000 troops on Yala's streets following the previous day's attacks.
In nearby Narathiwat, which like Yala is one of the three Muslim-dominated provinces in the mostly Buddhist country, unidentified gunmen killed two teachers, a favorite target during an 18-month Muslim separatist insurgency that has claimed about 900 lives.
"These people only want violence, it means they do not want to talk," said Thaksin, whose government has been criticized for taking a hard-line military approach toward the insurgency.
Interior Minister Chitchai Wannasathit, declaring a "time of national crisis," issued an appeal for unity after Thursday's attacks, which authorities said were well-coordinated and appeared to target civilians.
A decades-old Muslim separatist movement in the southern region died down in the late 1980s after the government granted an amnesty. But violence surged again early last year, with almost daily attacks.
Government efforts to suppress the violence have been largely unsuccessful, and critics maintain the authorities' heavy-handed response is driving moderate Muslims to sympathize with the extremists. Southern Muslims long have complained of discrimination in employment and education and economic development.
Suspected Muslim militants have staged isolated bombings and shootings in Thailand's far south since early last year, but Thursday's coordinated attacks in a large city were unprecedented.
At least 60 well-trained insurgents first plunged the city into darkness by destroying some electrical transformers. They then roamed the streets, using firebombs, grenades, small bombs and guns to target an area near a hotel, two convenience stores, a restaurant and the railway station, Chitchai said.
Three attackers have been arrested, police said.
The Foreign Ministry arranged to meet Monday with foreign ambassadors to explain the sweeping new powers, news reports said.