Looming Thaksin verdict prompts heightened security measures in Bangkok

16:24, February 24, 2010      

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by Aaron Goodman

Thai authorities said on Wednesday that they believe Bangkok will remain largely peaceful in the coming days.

Yet tensions are mounting as the Supreme Court is expected to hand down a verdict on Friday that could leave 76 billion Baht (2. 29 billion U.S. dollars) of exiled leader Thaksin Shinawatra's frozen assets in state hands.

A ruling of this nature could inspire violent reactions among the ousted premier and telecommunication tycoon's supporters, known as the red-shirts, thousands of whom are expected to demonstrate in Bangkok on Friday.

HEIGHTENED SECURITY MEASURES MEANT TO KEEP ORDER

Representatives of Thailand's Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) and Bangkok's Metropolitan Police Bureau told reporters they aren't expecting significant violence and disturbances in Bangkok, adding that they believe only 2,000 Thaksin protestors will take to the streets in the capital and they said they expect most will be peaceful.

But Maj. Gen. Ditthapron Sasasmit, ISOC's spokesperson, claimed unnamed rogue elements could take advantage of the uncertain political climate and try to provoke violence.

"ISOC is more concerned about the possibility of other people beside the demonstrators who could throw a hand grenade to try to instigate the incident that could cause the confrontation between the officers and demonstrators," he said.

In an effort to limit the chance of such attacks and maintain order, the pair said security will be tightly controlled at the judges' residences, as the judges travel to court, and at the court itself.

Five security checkpoints will also be set up at key locations in Bangkok, including the Foreign Ministry and Government House. Police will be backed by 100 soldiers and 100 others will be on standby.

The officials said they will also rely on CCTV cameras, intelligence gathering and the public to try to thwart any violent actions.

They added they are encouraging red-shirts from outlying provinces where Thaksin remains popular to stay in their home regions and listen to the court's decision live on radio, rather than traveling to Bangkok. However, authorities said they would not try to prevent protestors from entering Bangkok if they try.

The authorities said they would respect international norms for security control. If protests turn violent, they said police could reluctantly use tear gas, the government could apply the Internal Security Act (ISA), and cabinet could pass an emergency degree.

VERDICT UNLIKELY TO END POLITICAL ACRIMONY

Many politicians insist that no matter what the verdict is, deep-rooted political tensions are unlikely to cease anytime soon.

The Thai military, the urban upper class, and royalists are pitted against Thaksin's mainly rural and disaffected supporters, creating a seemingly endless cycle of political acrimony.

A recent symposium on current political crisis failed to find a solution.

At a symposium organized by Bangkok's Thammasat University on Feb. 20, Buranat Samutarak, spokesman of the ruling Democrat Party said the current strife did not originate from the 2006 coup but from abusive politicians like Thaksin, who rendered the checks-and- balances mechanism inoperative.

Meanwhile, Opposition Pheu Thai MP Piraphan Palasuk defended the red-shirt protests as fighting for democracy with Thaksin merely a symbol of the struggle.

The red-shirts movement or formally called the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) had announced that they will not organize mass rally at the court on Friday, but will encourage supporters as individuals to exercise their right to appear at the court to show their support for the convicted ex-premier.

Jatuporn Prompan, a red-shirts movement core leader announced Tuesday that the group will rally in March with at least 1 million supporters joining the protest to oust the Abhisit Vejjajiva government within seven days.

A recent poll showed that most Thais aren't expecting a speedy resolution to the political infighting. Many simply hope the situation will remain peaceful in the wake of the Court's upcoming ruling.

On the economic front, a Monday-issued report by Kasikorn Research Centre, Thailand's think tank, said impact of politics on economy largely depend on the severity of violence. Violent political events will create loss through damage on tourism, investment, consumer spending as well as delayed government spending budget.

In the worst case, the GDP could lose over 1 percent, the report warned.

Source: Xinhua
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