September 12, 2009
BANGKOK (AFP) - Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Saturday he would likely invoke harsh security laws for protests marking the third anniversary of the coup that ousted Thaksin Shinawatra as premier.
The "Red Shirt" movement says it will hold mass rallies in Bangkok on September 19 to commemorate the 2006 coup against Thaksin, who is living in exile, and to renew its calls for Abhisit to resign.
The Red Shirts have cancelled two other protests in the past fortnight after Abhisit invoked the Internal Security Act, which allows the government to deploy troops, ban gatherings and impose curfews.
"The Internal Security Act would be considered in next Tuesday's cabinet meeting and it is likely that the government will invoke the law again," Abhisit told reporters after a visit to the central province of Lopburi.
Hundreds of Red Shirts rallied against him during the visit but were outnumbered by thousands of police. Reports that protesters hurled fermented fish and plastic bottles at him could not be immediately confirmed.
Billionaire telecoms tycoon Thaksin has lived in exile since being sentenced to two years' jail for corruption last August, but the kindgom remains riven by tensions between his supporters and his foes.
The government is keen to avoid a repeat of events in April, when the Red Shirts derailed a key Asian summit and then rampaged through Bangkok for two days in riots that left two people dead and 123 injured.
The Red Shirts want fresh elections, saying that Abhisit came to power illegitimately in December following the siege of Bangkok's two airports by the rival, anti-Thaksin "Yellow Shirt" movement.
The government's ability to rely on the police to control next week's protests has however been thrown into question after Abhisit effectively forced the national police chief, General Patcharawat Wongsuwan, from his job.
Abhisit said Saturday he had held talks with the new acting police chief, Thanee Somboonsup, about the September 19 rallies.
Twice-elected Thaksin still enjoys huge support among Thailand's poor, particularly in rural northern parts of the country, but is hated by the Bangkok-based elite in the palace, military and establishment.