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Thais May Yet See Restrictions as Curfew Ended to Boost Economy

Thailand’s junta said it may impose spot curfews if needed, after last night lifting restrictions in Bangkok as the army chief who seized power May 22 seeks to draw back travelers and investors.

The National Council for Peace and Order may put some areas under curfew to prevent movements that affect national security, Patamaporn Ratanadilok Na Phuket, a spokeswoman for the council, said today in a statement sent by text message. Junta leader Prayuth Chan-Ocha has said the army had no choice other than to take power after months of street protests against the government headed Yingluck Shinawatra, whose brother Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a coup in 2006.

“The overall situation across the country has eased, and there are no sign of violence,” the junta said last night in a statement. “To ease the impact to people’s daily lives and boost tourism by Thais and foreigners the curfew is being lifted in the remaining areas nationwide with immediate effect.”

After ousting the elected government, the army suspended the constitution and used its powers under martial law to ban political activities, enforce the curfew and order more than 300 people to report in, including politicians, protesters, journalists and academics. At the same time, the junta vowed to accelerate spending and restarted payments to farmers under a disputed rice-subsidy program. Global funds pumped about $840 million into Thai stocks and bonds this month, after pulling $2.24 billion out in May, exchange data show.

The baht yesterday erased its losses since the military takeover. The currency rose 0.2 percent in Bangkok to 32.383 per dollar, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, after trading at 32.40 immediately prior to the May 22 coup. The SET Index (SET) of shares has gained 3.6 percent since the military seized power.

Economic Momentum

The Thai economy will start to recover this quarter and gain momentum in the three months through September as local demand improves in line with easing political concerns, Don Nakornthab, director for Bank of Thailand’s macroeconomic policy, told reporters in Bangkok on June 10.

Gross domestic product fell 0.6 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier, compared with the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey for a 0.4 percent increase. The economy shrank 2.1 percent from the previous three months.

Thailand’s monetary policy is accommodative and will help support the nation’s economic recovery, central bank Governor Prasarn Trairatvorakul told reporters June 12. The Bank of Thailand, which has cut the benchmark interest rate three times in the past year to 2 percent, will next review borrowing costs on June 18.

Political Reforms

The coup has been criticized by countries including the U.S., U.K., Japan and Australia, with some suspending military cooperation. Rights groups have voiced concern about post-coup detentions and the crackdown on freedom of expression, and have urged the junta to hold elections as soon as possible.

Prayuth has said there can be no elections until the system is reformed -- a process that will take at least 15 months -- and the country is united. An interim government will be installed in September and an interim legislative assembly will be formed soon after, he said yesterday.

“I want to confirm to you that from October the nation’s will have a Cabinet and we will try to make it similar to the normal administration as much as we can,” he said.

The junta says it had to take control of Thailand because seven months of protests and conflict had resulted in at least 28 people, paralyzed the government and risked civil war. It seized power days before groups were set to intensify their rallies both in opposition and support of Yingluck, who was removed as prime minister by a court in early May.

‘Return Happiness’

Visitor arrivals to the country fell 20 percent after martial law was declared May 20, the tourism ministry estimated. The junta initially imposed a 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. curfew nationwide and gradually eased restrictions starting with tourist destinations including Phuket, Koh Samui, Pattaya and Hua Hin.

Since the coup, Prayuth has pledged to “return happiness to the Thai people” by arranging concerts, street parties, and free movie screenings, while the junta this week negotiated a deal to screen all World Cup soccer matches on free-to-air television.

“Business had been really bad since the protests started more than six months ago because people started curbing spending, and it has been even worse with the curfew,” Nopakhun Thongnop, 61, who owns a bar and restaurant in Sammakorn Village in Bangkok’s suburbs, said yesterday by phone. “I am confident that business will return to normal after the curfew is lifted.”

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Suttinee Yuvejwattana in Bangkok at suttinee1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tony Jordan at tjordan3@bloomberg.net Jim McDonald

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