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Thai junta shortens curfew to midnight until 4am

Thailand's military junta announced on Tuesday that it was shortening a night-time curfew imposed after last week's military coup to midnight until 4am.

BANGKOK: Thailand's military junta announced on Tuesday that it was shortening a night-time curfew imposed after last week's military coup to midnight until 4am.

Previously the curfew had been for 10pm until 5am. The new times will take effect from Wednesday.

The relaxation came after state tourism officials reported a 20% fall in the number of visitors in recent days at a meeting with Admiral Narong Pipatanasai, commander of the Royal Thai Navy, who oversees tourism and social ministries.

The military's curfew has hurt consumer spending, as shops, malls and gas stations were forced to close early.

Amid early signs that normalcy is returning to the country, the military also said it is preparing an economic road map to bolster the battered economy after seven months of street unrest and outbursts of violence, which have hampered growth, consumer spending and investment.

The Thai economy contracted 2.1% in the first three months of this year from the previous quarter. The annual output is expected to be below last year's reading of 2.9%. The military said on Monday that it is trying to hit at least 2% annual growth this year.

Some industry groups and foreign investors said on Tuesday they were hopeful that the domestic economy will get the jolt it needs while they have the junta's attention on boosting growth and bringing stability to the Southeast Asian nation.

"It's certainly unfortunate that the state of Thai politics led to a coup, but if the junta puts focus on the economy, it may help reverse the deterioration seen since the political protests started last year," said Darren Buckley, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Thailand. 

Toyota Motor Corp, which briefly slowed production last week in the wake of the coup, said on Tuesday that it had resumed day- and night-shift operations at its plants in Thailand.

Representatives from the Thai private sector said they feel positive about the military's steps to tackle urgent economic problems, such as paying rice farmers, speeding up budget spending and clearing the backlog of applications for investment projects.

"We see that the money paid to farmers will stimulate rural spending and consumption two or three fold. The military is moving in the right direction," said Vichai Assarasakorn, vice chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce. 

The private sector also supported the junta's plan to reinstate some of the infrastructure projects, which will boost the country's long-term competitiveness, Mr Vichai said.

But the military also needs to take steps to restore confidence in the economy and lay out a clear plan to install a government, said Marc Spiegel, vice chairman of the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce in Thailand, which represents 29 chambers of commerce with 8,500 member companies. 

Delaying an election or jeopardizing the country's integration with the regional economic community set for next year could risk bringing a setback to domestic economy, Mr Spiegel said. 

"You have all these companies waiting to invest, and the longer this goes on, the higher the probability they're going to pull that investment," he said.

Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha, who heads the military junta, said on Monday an election and interim cabinet are "in the plans" but gave no definite timeline.

Over the weekend, General Prayuth himself has met with investors, hosting a Japanese Chamber of Commerce, whose members invest about US$9.8 billion a year in Thailand, to reassure them that the new junta would attempt to shift the economy into a higher gear.

Among other things, the members asked for a speedy completion of stalled flood-control measures as well as steps to get the investment-approval process functioning again.

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