Thailand's military chief said yesterday that he saw no pressing need for the government to declare a state of emergency because street protests to oust Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra so far have been peaceful.
"I can assure people that there will be no state of emergency in the near future," Supreme Commander General Ruengroj Mahasaranond told reporters. "We don't think that protesters will turn to violence."
His comments came amid a looming political showdown with anti-Thaksin protesters who had issued him a deadline of yesterday evening to resign or face a more serious form of pressure.
Leaders of the movement seeking Thaksin's resignation, who accuse him of corruption and abuse of power, have not announced what action they plan to take, beyond the nonviolent marches and rallies they have held almost daily for the last few weeks, if Thaksin did not step down by last night.
Thaksin, who denies any wrongdoing, has repeatedly said he will not bow to "mob rule."
More than 1,000 anti-Thaksin protesters rallied at the Finance Ministry yesterday, on a mission to expand protests beyond the prime minister's office, where protesters have camped out for over a week.
Thaksin meanwhile grasped the opportunity, with the protesters away from his office, to return to Government House for the first time since March 10.
The prime minister has conducted the past two weekly Cabinet meetings via video linkup while campaigning for April 2 elections across the country. Yesterday, Thaksin dismissed criticism that he had been too intimidated by the protesters to return to work, and shrugged off the demonstrators' ultimatum.
"I come and go when I want," he told reporters. "Nothing will happen when the deadline comes around."
On Tuesday evening, protest organizers gave Thaksin 48 hours to resign or face "more serious pressure."
Suriyasai Katasila, an anti-Thaksin spokesman, said that new tactics would be unveiled yesterday evening if Thaksin failed to comply.
Suriyasai said the new measures would be nonviolent but designed to turn up the heat on Thaksin and break the political deadlock, the Bangkok Post reported yesterday.
Organizers have said they may ask the king to appoint a "royally sponsored prime minister."
King Bhumibol Adulyadej, a constitutional monarch, has helped resolve national crises in the past, most recently in 1992 after street demonstrations to topple a military-backed government were violently suppressed.
Tens of thousands of protesters are expected to join a major anti-Thaksin rally scheduled for tomorrow, prompting speculation of possible violence and a looming government crackdown.
Organizers say they want it to be the biggest protest yet ahead of the April 2 general election called by Thaksin in a bid to defuse the political crisis.
On Wednesday, Thaksin met with the country's army commander to come up with a contingency plan should tomorrow's protest get out of hand.
Thaksin has not asked the military to help control the protesters -- a move which would require him to first declare a state of emergency -- but was seeking the army chief's advice.
"I told the prime minister that it is not good for the army to step forward too quickly. It would be damaging for the government," Army Commander General Sondhi Boonyaratkalin told reporters.
The comments were echoed by the military commander yesterday.