Thailand to deploy 1,400 troops around Bangkok

Agence France-Presse
Last updated 08:38pm (Mla time) 07/27/2007

BANGKOK — At least 1,400 soldiers will be deployed around Thailand’s capital this weekend to reinforce security amid fears of fresh violence during anti-coup protests, a junta spokesman said Friday.

Bangkok will be divided into 14 zones, with at least 100 soldiers deployed in each, bolstering security measures already introduced by police in the city, junta spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said.

The troops “will patrol in the capital and set up checkpoints to guarantee safety. We have stepped up security around Bangkok to ensure the general public will not see any violence,” he told Agence France-Presse.

Thailand’s junta chief, General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, ordered the deployment to back up police after an anti-coup protest last Sunday turned violent with more than 100 injured in clashes with police.

The clashes were the first violence since Sonthi toppled the government of prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a bloodless coup last September, and came as campaigning got underway for an August 19 referendum to approve an army-backed constitution.

“We are taking tougher legal measures and will take serious legal action against those who violate the law,” Sonthi told reporters.

The soldiers will deploy from Saturday through Tuesday, as Thailand observes a long weekend for a Buddhist holiday, but that period could be extended further, said junta spokesman Sansern.

The announcement of the deployment came one day after nine protest leaders were arrested over the clashes.

One was released on 200,000 baht (6,000 dollar) bail Friday, but the rest were being held at a Bangkok jail for questioning, police said.

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 organize more protests,” he said.

“Police have 100 more witnesses to question for the investigation.”

The United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship, an alliance of democracy advocates and Thaksin supporters, 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 new 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 told Agence France-Presse.

“The situation is getting more intense. The best way is to compromise to prevent things from turning violent,” she added.

The protests have failed to gain much traction over the last two months, rarely attracting more than 5,000 people.

But the government has taken a tough line against the rallies since last weekend’s clashes, and insists that the protests will not derail the constitutional referendum.

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.

Sombat Boonngamnarong, another key protest leader, said independent investigators rather than police should handle the probe of the nine protest leaders to avoid any political interference.

“The arrests are an attempt to block the campaigns against the referendum,” he told reporters.

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