November 24, 2012 00:00 By The Nation 12,560 Viewed
Provincial authorities told to prevent Pitak Siam supporters from reaching capital; Police chief expects 50,000 people to attend; says protest might be prolonged
Bangkok is bracing for the biggest anti-government protest of the Yingluck Shinawatra era.
The government and provincial authorities appeared to be employing various means to prevent people from the provinces and Bangkok residents from joining today’s rally at the Royal Plaza.
Amid warnings of violence and the possible use of force by police, many police checkpoints have been set up along the main roads that lead to Bangkok.
Provincial governors have been instructed by the government to attempt to discourage people under their administration from joining the protest, which is being organised by the Pitak Siam group.
Phang-nga Governor Thamrong Charoenkul said yesterday that he had received an order from the government to keep an eye on local supporters of the anti-government movement. He said the local authorities attempted to persuade those people not to join the Bangkok rally, adding that checkpoints were set up in all districts of the southern province.
The governor said he expected fewer than 100 people from Phang-nga to take part in today’s rally in Bangkok.
Retired Lt-General Nanthadej Meksawat, one of the rally organisers, said yesterday that prospective protesters from the provinces had been blocked from leaving their villages.
“Governors and district chiefs in every province were told to block as many prospective protesters as possible. The order was passed down to the village heads,” he said.
He added that because of those efforts, he expected the number of protesters to be lower than expected.
Nanthadej said fellow protest organisers would try to persuade the Pitak Siam leader, retired General Boonlert Kaewprasit, not to call off the protest too early. He expected many protesters to arrive at the rally site late in the afternoon and in the evening, mainly because of the large-scale blockade efforts.
Protest organisers yesterday evening began setting up the main stage at the Royal Plaza. A large amount of food and other facilities, such as temporary toilets, were set up at the site.
Despite dismal predictions by some organisers of a low turnout, the national police chief expected some 50,000 people to join the rally.
National Police Commissioner General Adul Saengsingkaeo, who now heads the Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order, said he believed the number of anti-government demonstrators in Bangkok would stand at around 50,000 and that the rally might be prolonged.
He warned that police would use tear gas if the protesters attempted to enter off-limits areas.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Maj-General Khamronwit Thoopkrajang said officers were well trained and would not harm people even in the event that they needed to clear demonstrators out of any area.
Police roadblocks were set up along main provincial roads leading to Bangkok, including those in Ayutthaya and Pathum Thani.
The police began their large mobilisation in Bangkok on Thursday – shortly after the Cabinet decided to impose the Internal Security Act (ISA) – and their efforts were blamed for worse-than-normal traffic congestion in the city. Several hundred more police were transported into the capital yesterday from provinces such as Ang Thong and Sing Buri.
The red shirts, who form a major source of support for the Pheu Thai-led government, gathered in their home provinces – mostly in the North and Northeast – yesterday and threatened to come to Bangkok if the situation escalated. They would wait for instructions from the red shirt leaders at the movement’s headquarters at Imperial Lat Phrao department store.
Prime Minister Yingluck’s house in the Lat Phrao area was yesterday guarded by a large police presence from different units.
An extra bulletproof sport-utility vehicle was added to the PM’s motorcade, to be used as a spare in addition to her bulletproof van, a Government House source said.
The prime minister cancelled her scheduled appearance at a function in the Klong Toei community today.
Meanwhile, Chinnapat Bhumirat, secretary-general of the Office of the Basic Education Commission (Obec), yesterday said it was up to school directors to decide whether to close schools located near the protest site. As many as 15 secondary schools in the three districts in which the ISA is effective ended classes at noon yesterday.
Businesspeople and economists said they did not expect the protest to have a serious impact on the economy, but warned that the situation should be closely monitored. Tourism operators reported no booking cancellations.