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Thai rally prompts new security law
Government to introduce tough security law ahead of rallies by opposition Red Shirts.
Last Modified: 09 Mar 2010 07:50 GMT
The Red Shirts have promised to "peacefully halt Bangkok" in planned protests [File: EPA]

Thailand's government is set to impose a tough security law ahead of anti-government protests due to start on Friday.

Suthep Thaugsuban, the deputy prime minister, said the government planned to use the Internal Security Act (ISA) that gives security forces broad powers such as imposing curfews and restricting the movement of demonstrators.

The cabinet was meeting on Tuesday to decide on using the law between March 11 and March 23 in the capital, Bangkok.

Members of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), who wear Red Shirts, and are suppoters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, are aiming to gather one million protesters in the capital.

"Based on information we have received, there are many groups of protesters and some may attempt to use violent means," Suthep said after meeting senior security officials.

Tough measures

The 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 UDD turn violent.

The government fears that elements within the Red Shirts may resort to violence [Reuters]

The Red Shirts plan to start their rallies in parts of Bangkok and the provinces on March 12. They plan to merge in the historic part of the city on March 14 in an operation that they said would "peacefully halt Bangkok".

The UDD has said it would rally peacefully for at least seven days in what has been dubbed "a million-man march", although analysts doubt the group can mobilise that number.

Following the decision to use the ISA,  Abhisit Vejjajiva, the prime minister, cancelled a visit to Australia planned for March 13.

After the announcement, Abhisit visited the Thai king in hospital in a routine briefing which included a discussion on the country's current political situation.

Unrest fears

Larry Jagan, a Southeast Asia analyst, told Al Jazeera that a real fear of the government are groups not under the control of the Red Shirts.

"These groups may do something silly during the demonstrations, and there have been reports of at least 20 hand grenades gone missing from the army barracks," he said.

"The government should take the protests seriously because what we are seeing is a pro-Thaksin movement getting angrier and angrier at what they see as injustice. The divisions in Thai society are also getting wider and the governent needs to address this.

In April 2009, protesters brought traffic in parts of Bangkok to a halt, sparking Thailand's worst political violence in 17 years. The riots that followed were quelled by the army.

Since then, the group has held peaceful rallies in the capital and elsewhere.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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