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Thai police get ready to face protesters


June 20, 2008

Thai police get ready to face protesters
Thai police will deploy 4,500 officers at the prime minister's office to repel protesters whose four-week campaign to unseat the government has rattled investors and stoked fears of another coup, Reuters quoted a police spokesman as saying Thursday.

The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), a motley collection of businessmen, academics and royalists united by their hatred of ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra, are calling for hundreds of thousands to join Friday's march on Government House.

Police Major General Suraphol Thuangthong said he was not expecting more than 14,000 demonstrators, but repeated a threat to use force if necessary against the marchers, most of whom are likely to be middle-class Bangkok residents.

"If they try to break through the barricades of police trucks or stir up trouble we have high-pressure hoses and tear gas," Suraphol, the deputy police spokesman, told reporters. "But we will try not to use them."

Despite PAD's claims to be staging a peaceful rally, dozens of its security guards have armed themselves with baseball bats, plastic helmets and wooden shields, some emblazoned with pictures of revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, the main focus of the PAD's wrath given his admission to being a proxy for Thaksin, ejected by the army in 2006 after a long PAD street campaign, tried to play down fears of a major confrontation.

"The current situation isn't that intense but police may have to work harder to deal with them," he told a meeting of top security officials. It would not be necessary to have soldiers on standby to help control the rally, he added.

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The stock market has fallen more than 13 percent since May 25, when the PAD started its campaign, as investors worried about political tension at a time of stuttering economic growth and soaring inflation.

A stand-off last month with riot police even triggered rumours of a coup less than two years after the army's removal of Thaksin, a telecoms billionaire whose political might threatened the traditional elites whose power was centred on the palace.

Army chief Anupong Paochinda, a member of the military council that ousted Thaksin, insisted the army would not get involved, perhaps mindful of 1992 unrest, when soldiers opened fire on pro-democracy demonstrators, killing dozens.

"Politics must be resolved by political means," Anupong said. So far, the PAD campaign has only managed to muster crowds of a few thousand.

However, union leaders at the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, the main state power provider, said on Wednesday their members would take leave to join Friday's rally, suggesting its numbers may be higher.

In a related report, the Thai News Agency quoted Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej as reaffirming on Thursday that his government would not count on military force to oversee the anti-government rally by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) supporters.

Chairing a meeting with armed forces commanders and top officials of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), he said he had instructed ISOC to be on full alert around the clock, and that he had asked security agencies concerned to support the ISOC operation.

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