BANGKOK, Sept 15, 2009 (AFP) - Thailand's cabinet agreed Tuesday to invoke harsh security laws allowing the deployment of troops for protests this weekend on the third anniversary of a coup against former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thai soldiers patrol a check security at Government House in Bangkok on September 15, 2009 (AFP photo)
The move raises tensions ahead of the planned mass rally on Saturday in Bangkok by the "Red Shirt" movement, which wants current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to quit and call fresh elections.
Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said the Internal Security Act would be in force from Friday until Tuesday in the centre of the capital "as the demonstration is likely to turn into political chaos."
"This law will both ensure the safety of protesters and allow us to control the situation. Police will be the core force with the military acting as assistants, but the number of forces depends on the situation," he said.
The act will effectively ban protests in Bangkok's historic Dusit district, which is home to several potential flashpoint locations including Parliament and Government House, where the cabinet offices are located.
The protest comes a day before Abhisit is due to leave for the United States for the UN General Assembly and the G20 summit. Thaksin was toppled by the military in 2006 while he was away at the UN.
The Red Shirts have twice called off previous rallies in recent weeks after the government invoked the act, but they vowed to go ahead with this weekend's demonstration.
"Unarmed and peaceful protest is guaranteed under the constitution. The government has no need to be afraid of this demonstration," Jatuporn Prompan, one of the movement's senior leaders, told AFP.
In April similar Red Shirt protests spiralled into riots which forced the cancellation of a major Asian summit and led to mass unrest in Bangkok, leaving two people dead and 123 injured.
The Red Shirts backed down on that occasion after troops threatened to use force, but they have recently reignited their campaign by lodging a petition with the king last week for a royal pardon for Thaksin.
Thaksin fled the country a year ago to escape a two-year jail term for corruption, but the divide between his supporters and his foes continues to cause turmoil in the kingdom.