Thailand prepares 5,000-strong force against 'Red Shirt' rally

BANGKOK, Aug 28, 2009 (AFP) - The Thai government said Friday it will mobilise a 5,000-strong force this weekend as it invokes a harsh internal security law to prevent a mass rally of "Red Shirts" escalating into riots.

Thousands of demonstrators loyal to fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra are expected to gather Sunday at the Royal Plaza in the heart of Bangkok, despite the government order banning them from certain areas.

They want current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to dissolve parliament and call snap elections. Thaksin was toppled in a coup in 2006 and his allies were driven from government in December.

"I will try to handle this matter orderly and peacefully" said deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who is overseeing the security operation.

"It's time that we must be decisive," he added.

Suthep said the government would mobilise a combined force of 5,550 military troops, police and civilians, in an attempt to "preserve national security."

Nearly 2,000 police will be deployed guard the Government House complex -- home to the cabinet and prime minister's offices -- from which the protesters are banned.

Thailand wants to prevent a repeat of the chaos in April when thousands of Red Shirts occupied Government House and then went on a rampage through the capital, before caving in to threats of a military crackdown.

"This time we have to be well prepared not to allow them to burn down our country again," Suthep said.

Supporters of the ousted Thaksin last week massed at a parade ground in Bangkok to hand in a three-million-name petition seeking a royal pardon for their icon.

Billionaire Thaksin, who still enjoys huge support among Thailand's rural poor in particular, was toppled three years ago following protests by the rival, royalist "Yellow Shirt" movement.

Last year he fled the country to avoid a two-year jail term for corruption.

The Yellow Shirts themselves occupied Government House a year ago to oppose the then-government, which was led by Thaksin's allies, leading to violent clashes with police.

That government collapsed in December after the Yellow Shirts blockaded Bangkok's main airports, bringing Abhisit to power and angering supporters of exiled Thaksin.

Source: AFP

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