Thailand steps up security ahead of anti-junta protest

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Saturday, July 28, 2007 04:55 PM

BANGKOK (AFP) – Thousands of troops were deployed in the Thai capital Saturday to reinforce security amid fears protests against the country’s army-backed government could again turn violent.

Most of the 2,100 troops were guarding Sanam Luang plaza in central Bangkok, a venue of daily rallies demanding the ouster of the junta, which came to power after last year’s coup overthrowing prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

“We are deploying troops to ensure security for the public,” said the regional army commander, Lieutenant General Prayuth Chan-ocha, adding that extra troops were also deployed around the prime minister’s office.

In case of emergency, the military was ready to send an extra 2,200 troops for security, he said. Police said 300 officers were stationed around the plaza.
Thailand’s junta chief, General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, ordered the troop deployment Friday after more than 100 anti-coup protesters were injured in clashes with police last Sunday.

The clashes were the first violence since the bloodless coup in September 2006 and came as campaigning got underway for an August 19 referendum to approve an army-backed constitution.

Police arrested nine protest leaders over the clashes, but one was released late Friday on bail.

Authorities have repeatedly warned that the government could impose a state of emergency in Bangkok if more violence breaks out at anti-coup protests.
But protest organisers said they would continue to stage the rallies to voice opposition to military rule.

“We have the right to give information to the public and will continue our campaign to urge people to vote against the constitution in the referendum,” said Pratheep Ungsongtham Hata, leader of an alliance of democracy advocates and Thaksin supporters.

While taking a tough line against protesters, the government has insisted that the anti-coup rallies will not derail the constitutional referendum next month.
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.

Campaigning is tilted heavily in the government’s favour, with half the country under martial law since the coup and a new law threatening prison time for anyone convicted of obstructing the referendum.

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