Thai government lifts politics bans ahead of polls

FILE - In this Nov. 15, 2018, file photo, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha gestures the Thai way shortly after accepting the ASEAN Summit and Related Summits' hosting and chairmanship for next year in Thailand from Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in Singapore. Prayuth invoked a special executive power Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, to ease several restrictions that were set after the army seized power from an elected government. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez, File)

BANGKOK — Thailand's military government on Tuesday lifted a ban on political activities it imposed when it seized power in a coup more than four years ago, an action taken in preparation for elections promised for early next year.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha invoked a special executive power with publication in the Royal Gazette of the order easing several restrictions that were set after the army seized power from an elected government in May 2014.

The order included the lifting of a ban on political gatherings of more than five people that the ruling junta has used as one of many measures to suppress opponents of its rule.

It also unfreezes the bank accounts of politicians who were targeted for restrictions and allows political parties to begin using funds for campaign purposes in the run-up to polls tentatively scheduled for Feb. 24, among other measures.

The order also involves revoking parts of other measures the junta has used to silence dissent, such as measures on the return of those who had been called in to military bases for "attitude adjustment" sessions where critics of military rule have been detained for weeks.

The deputy chief of Thailand's Election Commission said Tuesday that the body had voted in favor of a Feb. 24 election date, but that an official announcement would have to be made later.

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