BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha on Tuesday dismissed calls to lift martial law, saying it would continue until sweeping national reforms are in place, despite calls by tourism bodies to scrap a measure that has deterred many visitors.
Martial law was declared on May 20, two days before the army seized power in a bloodless coup following months of sometimes violent street protests aimed at ousting then Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Last month, the military government said it was considering lifting the law in provinces that attract visitors, so as to boost tourism, which accounts for a tenth of the economy, and was battered by the protests, martial law and the coup.
Tourist arrivals dropped 7.0 percent in September from a year earlier, following a drop of 11.9 percent in August.
Prayuth, who led the coup as commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Army, said the military seized control of government to help avert further bloodshed after months of unrest left nearly 30 dead.
“Don’t ask me about the special law now,” Prayuth told reporters. “Let reform happen first and once various situations calm down I will consider lifting it myself.”
He gave no further details.
Prayuth retired as army chief last month but remains leader of the junta and prime minister.
Martial law puts national security firmly in the hands of the military, and gives it sweeping powers. It also bars political gatherings of more than five people.
The murders of two British tourists on an island last month have added to worries about a swift recovery for the industry.
The coup on May 22 came days after a court found Yingluck guilty of abuse of power and ordered her to step down.
Six months of demonstrations pitted Yingluck’s supporters against her Bangkok-based royalist opponents.
Thailand has been deeply divided since at least 2006, when Yingluck’s brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was toppled by the army after being accused of corruption, nepotism and republican leanings. He denies the accusations.
Last month, the military appointed a 250-member panel to draw up political reforms and approve a new constitution. Prayuth has said elections will take place in late 2015.
Reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Clarence Fernandez