A soldier reads the phrase ‘‘Thais Love Peace’’ on a woman’s T-shirt as she walks past security officers standing guard near Government House. More people are calling on the government and red shirt protesters to resolve their grievances peacefully. PATTANAPONG HIRUNARD
SPECIAL REPORT: The city is on a knife's edge as tens of thousands of protesters gather in a bid to overthrow the government
The first day of the so-called "million man march" is expected to proceed smoothly, according to a government security source, as UDD supporters gather at various points across the country.
"The most vulnerable period will be March 13 and 14 when the red shirts start arriving in town," the source said.
"It will be hard to control the crowds and there are high risks of them turning into angry mobs if provoked."
The source said mischievous groups might exploit the situation and manipulate it to create a state of anarchy.
Five groups would be watched closely, including those led by rogue army officer Khattiya Sawasdiphol and politicians who have close affiliations to ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Security authorities are expecting the UDD's mass rally to end within a week, the source said.
"[UDD leaders] want a swift victory," the source said.
Maj Gen Khattiya said yesterday he would watch the demonstration from afar. He would only join the activities if the government used force against the protesters.
Security authorities estimate there will be between 70,000 and 100,000 red shirt demonstrators at the rally's peaks.
It is hard to predict the number of vehicles being mobilised but initial estimates suggest there will be 5,000.
UDD demonstrators will begin their separate rallies at their rendezvous points simultaneously at 12.12pm today. In Bangkok, protesters will march from Sanam Luang to the Royal Plaza.
It is estimated the UDD will mobilise about 5,000 guards to provide security at the rally site.
UDD key leader Jatuporn Prompan said yesterday the first and most likely vulnerable location for clashes between the red shirt demonstrators and security forces was at Pratunam Phra-in in Ayutthaya's Wang Noi district.
A police source said security authorities had been mobilised to block the red convoy and keep the demonstrators out of Bangkok.
"It is the very first spot where clashes could take place," Mr Jatuporn said.
Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who chairs the peace-keeping centre, said security forces were 100% ready for the red shirts' rally.
He also called on protesters not to disrupt checkpoints which have been set up to screen them and their vehicles for weapons.
He said the Interior Ministry, the Justice Ministry and the National Security Council had set up a committee to monitor radio and television stations which were used to provoke demonstrators.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said yesterday he was ready to step down or dissolve the House of Representatives if those options could guarantee a greater good for the country and the public.
But he indicated he would not take these steps under pressure from the UDD.
"I never rule out stepping down or dissolving the House. But this kind of decision will be based on the country's and the public's interest," he said, responding to a motion on political volatility during the red shirt rally in parliament.
"The situation is calling for us to move forward and sustain the system, not to hold on to power."
Mr Abhisit insisted the enforcement of the Internal Security Act was to ensure a peaceful and orderly protest, not to restrict demonstrators' rights.
He said the government would not be provoked and fall victim to people who want to instigate violence. He also urged the public to exercise restraint.
The US embassy yesterday said it was concerned there might be attempts to incite violence at the rally.
"The United States believes that differences should be addressed through Thailand's democratic institutions and not through violence," the embassy said in its statement.
"We call on protesters and their leaders to avoid the use of violence and to exercise their right to assemble and protest peacefully, in accordance with the law."
Mr Abhisit, Mr Suthep and security agencies warned last week about possible acts of sabotage during the rally.
Their concern was underlined by foreign intelligence agencies monitoring arms movements. They met Thai intelligence officials to warn the government of the possibility of sabotage, a security source said.
Meanwhile, a group of opposition Puea Thai Party MPs yesterday called on the government to dissolve the lower house to avoid violence.
Surapong Towichakchaikul, of Chiang Mai, said a dissolution would end social divisiveness.
"Mr Abhisit knows that tens of thousands of people are protesting because they do not want this government any longer," Mr Surapong said.
"The mandate should be returned to the people."