Security tight for Bangkok protests

REUTERS , BANGKOK

Tue, Mar 09, 2010 - Page 4

The Thai government plans to invoke a tough security law, giving the armed forces broad powers to control a rally in Bangkok this weekend by supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a minister said yesterday.

The Internal Security Act (ISA) allows the country’s top security agency, the Internal Security Operations Command, to impose curfews, operate checkpoints and restrict the movement of demonstrators if protests by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) turn violent.

“Based on information we have received, there are many groups of protesters and some may attempt to use violent means,” Deputy Thai Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said following a meeting with top security officials.

The ISA, to be invoked after today’s weekly Cabinet meeting, would be imposed from Thursday to March 23 in Bangkok and surrounding areas, where anti-government protesters plan to rally to press for new elections.

Following the decision to use the ISA, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva canceled his planned visit to Australia, a spokesman said, without elaborating. He was to have left on Saturday for a five-day visit.

Thaksin’s red-shirted supporters plan to kick off their rallies in the provinces on Friday before moving to Bangkok on Sunday, merging in the historic heart of the capital near the Grand Palace.

The UDD has said it would stay for at least seven days in what has been dubbed “a million-man march,” although analysts doubt the group can mobilize that number. However, even a smaller number could paralyze the capital.

Tens of thousands of protesters brought traffic in various parts of Bangkok to a standstill for several days last April, occupying major intersections and sparking Thailand’s worst political violence in 17 years. The riots were eventually quelled by the army.

Since then, the group has held peaceful rallies in Bangkok and elsewhere. The special security law has been invoked on seven occasions but no restrictions put in place.

After two unprecedented election wins, Thaksin was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and now lives in exile after fleeing ahead of a two-year prison sentence for graft.