Govt steps up security, but personnel will not be armed

The Cabinet yesterday resolved to impose the Internal Security Act in Bangkok and seven other neighbouring provinces from tomorrow ahead of the upcoming mass rally by the red shirts. By: The Nation

Before the decision was reached, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, told the weekly Cabinet meeting that intelligence reports marked Friday and Saturday as a "fragile period", a Government House source said.

Suthep added that the protesters would try to paralyse Bangkok traffic and some may even carry out violent actions, throwing grenades or burning down government buildings in a bid to provoke the use of force.
Suthep told the Cabinet that security forces employed to enforce the ISA would be carrying batons, not firearms. However, armed rapid-response units would be kept on standby and only dispatched in cases of emergency, such as when a state agency is under attack.
He also advised his fellow Cabinet members to ensure security at their ministries during the period.
The deputy premier also told the ministers that safe houses would be provided for them if needed, the source said.
Suthep told the Cabinet that the international intelligence community also agreed that the red shirts' moves were undemocratic and that their protests could be regarded as terrorist acts.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, meanwhile, told the Cabinet that each and every member should make themselves available on the phone at all times, whether they are upcountry or overseas, so they can issue instructions to their subordinates in case of emergency, the source said.
The premier also said that if there is a siege of government offices, Cabinet members should be ready to convene and give consent to an emergency decree if needed. Apart from the PM, the ministers of Defence and Interior as well as Cabinet members are coalition leaders.
Abhisit told reporters later that he believed imposing the ISA would help improve the situation, adding that he was not thinking about moving to a safe house with his family.
In response to news that fugitive ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra's family members had left the country, Abhisit said that was intriguing as they had done the same thing before last year's Songkran mayhem.
"I would like to ask the protesters to think carefully about what and for whom they are rising and fighting," the prime minister said, adding that the government would do its utmost to maintain peace and avoid the use of force.
The Internal Security Operations Command has asked for Bt107 million to cover allowances for the military and civilian personnel employed during the protest period. The police, meanwhile, asked for Bt237 million to cover food and other allowances, though the Cabinet agreed to give them Bt212 million.
Acting government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said yesterday that the imposition of the ISA and enforcement of 18 other relevant laws were expected to help the authorities deal with emergency cases more effectively.
The ISA will be enforced from tomorrow to March 23 in all areas of Bangkok and Nonthaburi, as well as certain districts in Pathum Thani, Samut Sakhon, Samut Prakan, Nakhon Pathom, Chachoengsao and Ayutthaya, the spokesman said.
Panitan said the ISA was for the authorities to ensure the safety of people living in the areas, adding that officials enforcing the law would not be carrying weapons and would be required to strictly follow official guidelines.
He said the Cabinet had not declared Friday a public holiday for fear that doing so could affect businesses and cause panic among the masses. "The situation is still manageable," he added.
Suthep, meanwhile, told reporters yesterday that the authorities would exercise tolerance and adhere to normal laws until the situation calls for the use of a tougher law.
"We will deal with it step by step," he added.
Meanwhile, representatives from relevant government agencies will today appear in a special programme on the state-run TV Channel 11 from 10pm to midnight to explain the security measures being taken.
Abhisit gave PM's Office Minister Satit Wongnongtaey, who oversees state-run media, the job of organising the TV programme so the public can be told why the ISA was needed, the source said.
In a related development, House of Representatives Speaker Chai Chidchob yesterday instructed the House Secretariat to step up security measures for the Parliament compound during the protest period.

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