Thailand invokes strict security law ahead of rally
Published Tuesday, March 9, 2010 6:21AM EST
BANGKOK, Thailand - The Thai government approved the use of a stringent security law Tuesday and ordered strict surveillance of anti-government websites ahead of a major protest this weekend that authorities fear could spark unrest.
Supporters of ex-leader Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a 2006 coup, have called for a "million man march" to begin nationwide Friday and converge in the capital, Bangkok, on Sunday.
Analysts predict a lower turnout, but Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's government fears a repeat of April 2009 when tens of thousands of Thaksin supporters paralyzed major Bangkok intersections and sparked violence that left two dead and more than 120 injured.
The Internal Security Act will be imposed Thursday and remain in place until March 23 in Bangkok and parts of the six provinces that are the gateways to the capital, government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said after the Cabinet voted to invoke the law.
One Abhisit critic hurled a bag filled with cow excrement at the prime minister's private home Tuesday morning, police said. The bag hit the outside fence just minutes after Abhisit's armoured car had driven him out. The man was arrested and sentenced to 10 days in jail. A similar incident occurred last month, despite armed guards surrounding the central Bangkok property.
The ISA gives the prime minister authority to use the military to restore order and allows the government to impose curfews and restrict freedom of movement in situations deemed harmful to national security.
Authorities will also use 18 other laws "to help monitor and control the situation," Panitan said. Those measures include controls on guns, explosives and other weapons, disaster relief and emergency medical services.
"The prime minister has ordered all ministries to closely monitor the rally," said Sathit Wongnongtoey, minister to the Prime Minister's Office. The telecommunications ministry has been ordered to monitor certain anti-government Web sites, he said.
"If there are messages that incite violence, the ministry has to take strict measures," Sathit said.
Abhisit on Monday postponed an official trip to Australia that overlapped with the protests, saying he needed to take care of the situation at home.
Thaksin's supporters are demanding Abhisit dissolve parliament and call fresh elections.
The anti-government protesters, who also include nonpartisan democracy activists who oppose the coup that toppled Thaksin, insist their demonstration will be nonviolent.
Thailand has been gripped by a political crisis and sometimes violent protests since 2006, when Thaksin was ousted for alleged corruption and abuse of power. In 2008, when a pro-Thaksin administration was in power, anti-Thaksin activists seized Bangkok's two airports and stranded thousands of tourists.
On Feb. 26, the Supreme Court ordered $1.4 billion of Thaksin's assets seized for corruption. They allowed him to keep nearly $1 billion that he had earned before becoming prime minister.