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NEWS UPDATES 27 January 2010

Thai military to help police deal with expected protests

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Thailand's cabinet granted approval Tuesday for the military to assist police in dealing with upcoming mass protests by supporters of ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, AFP reported.

Rallies by anti-government "Red Shirts" are expected to intensify in Bangkok in the coming weeks, ahead of a court ruling next month on the frozen fortune of Thaksin, who was deposed in a coup in 2006.

But the cabinet's decision Tuesday came without invoking the harsh Internal Security Act (ISA), as the government has done ahead of previous protests, which allows the army to deploy troops, ban gatherings and impose curfews.

"It's a measure ahead of invoking the ISA," government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said.

"But if the situation deteriorates the government will declare ISA," he said.

"As of today the military will act as helpers of police officers, and will respond immediately upon police request."

The Red Shirts have held several rallies over the past year in support of Thaksin, who is living in exile to escape a two-year jail term for corruption.

They culminated in April with the disruption of a major Asian summit and riots in Bangkok that left two people dead.

Thailand's Supreme Court is set to rule on February 26 whether authorities can continue to hold Thaksin's assets worth 76 billion baht ($2.2 billion), which were frozen in the months following the coup.

"The cabinet was briefed by security agencies that Red Shirt protests will intensify and become more frequent this month and next, so the government must have measures to deal with this," Panitan said.

Panitan said the government expected fresh protests to begin this week, spreading to several locations in the capital, and Thai authorities will guard all sensitive locations such as the houses of judges and prominent politicians.

Earlier this month the cabinet approved a 7.5-million-dollar budget for the army to buy new riot equipment.

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