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Monarch gets briefing

Photo Royal Household Bureau

Govt to impose ISA as PM cancels trip to Australia

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday was granted an audience with His Majesty the King at Siriraj Hospital to report about the current situation.

There was no official word on the meeting, particularly what was discussed, but it was understood that the simmering political situation was included in Abhisit's routine briefing to the King.

His Majesty has stayed in hospital since he was admitted in September last year with a lung infection and fever. He left for the Chitralada Palace on the night of February 27 and returned to hospital a few hours later.

The audience took place just hours after the government announced Abhisit had postponed his trip to Australia. The government also decided to impose the Internal Security Act in a bid to contain the red shirts' mass rally in the capital this weekend.

The decision came after the Security-related Situation Monitoring Committee resolved earlier yesterday to propose to the Cabinet that the Act be imposed from this Thursday until March 23 in Bangkok and certain areas of Pathum Thani, Ayutthaya and Samut Prakan provinces.

When asked about the trip, Abhisit responded: "It has been cancelled." The prime minister was scheduled to make an official visit to Australia from Saturday till next Wednesday.

The prime minister told a meeting of ministry permanent secretaries yesterday that intelligence showed small groups of people would try to cause violence and chaos in a bid to effect political change, according to a Govern-ment House source.

At the meeting organised at the Thailand Cultural Centre, Abhisit instructed the top bureaucrats to step up security measures in their agencies.

The prime minister said the street protests would start this Friday, not on Sunday as had been announced by the red shirt leaders, according to the source.

"People called and told me a lot of military fatigues were bought at the Chatuchak Market and bullets at gun shops in the Phahurat area were sold out. Water pipes were also bought to make guns," Abhisit was quoted as saying.

"Intelligence shows that there are no exact plans for this upcoming rally. And there's no unity. There's even an idea to harm some fellow red-shirt leaders to create an incident. The government insists on enforcing the law and avoiding use of force," the prime minister told the top bureaucrats.

He said that the government would enforce three laws to keep order during the protest period: a law for the prevention and relief of public disasters, the Internal Security Act, and the emergency decree. "I hope we don't need to impose martial law," he added.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who chaired the security monitoring panel's meeting at Army headquarters yesterday, told reporters up to 100,000 people were expected in Bangkok from Friday, with about 10,000 pickups and farm trucks being used to carry them.

He said the panel agreed that a worrying factor was the red shirts consisted of many groups with poor communication between each. "We are not sure if they can control their people. That is worrying for officials who have to deal with them. Our intelligence shows that many of the groups show a tendency to use violence," said Suthep, who is in charge of security affairs.

He said one of four grenade attacks on February 27 was supposedly linked to the reds.

He said some of the red shirts planned to besiege government offices and residences of important figures, like Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda.

And while organisers had said protesters would gather at Sanam Luang and Rajdamnoen Avenue, many groups were likely to "operate" in other parts of Bangkok, which would threaten normal life and the welfare of city residents.

"So we decided that the ISA be invoked to protect people in Bangkok from unexpected incidents," he said.


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