AFP/File Photo: Thailand’s junta leader General Sonthi Boonyaratglin (L) chats with national police chief, General Sereepisut Taemeeyaves…
BANGKOK (AFP) – Thailand’s junta chief said Friday that he will deploy troops to reinforce security measures by police at anti-coup protests this weekend.
“I have already told the army commander for the central region to deploy troops to back up the work of police officers to handle the situation from now on,” said General Sonthi Boonyaratglin.
“We are taking tougher legal measures and will take serious legal action against those who violate the law,” he told reporters.
The announcement came one day after nine protest leaders were arrested over clashes with police last Sunday that left more than 100 injured.
The clashes were the first violence since Sonthi toppled the government of prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a bloodless coup last September.
Bangkok police spokesman Supisarn Bhakdinaruenart said police would ask a judge for permission to hold the protest leaders for 48 days without charge.
“We have to detain them further because if we set them free, evidence from last Sunday could be destroyed and they could organise more protests,” he said.
“Police have 100 more witnesses to question for the investigation,” he added.
The United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship, an alliance of democracy advocates and Thaksin supporters that is spearheading the protests, said it had already chosen new leaders to carry on with the daily demonstrations that have been running every night since early June.
Pratheep Ungsongtham Hata, one of the group’s newly named leaders, vowed to continue their rallies in the Sanam Luang plaza in central Bangkok, but condemned the government for barring them from marching in the streets.
“Forcing us to stay only at Sanam Luang places too great a limit on our rights,” she said.
“The unfair treatment given to us has become clear to the public. The detention of the protest leaders indicates some kind of political interference in judicial procedures,” she told AFP.
“The situation is getting more intense. The best way is to compromise to prevent things from turning violent,” she added.
The government has taken a tough line against the protests since last weekend’s clashes, which came as campaigning was getting underway for an August 19 referendum to approve an army-backed constitution.
The military says the new charter will clear the way for elections by the end of the year, but opponents fear it will provide ways for the army to maintain an influence over government through powerful appointees.
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