Members of Thaksin Shinawatra's immediate family have left or are leaving the country ahead of this weekend's rally by supporters of the fugitive former prime minister.
Thaksin's former wife Potjaman na Pombejra and their son Panthongtae Shinawatra left for Hong Kong on Monday while their two daughters Ms Pinthongta and Ms Paethongtan fly out today for Berlin.
A source from the Puea Thai Party said yesterday the trips were organised in the expectation that there could be unrest at the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship protest at the weekend. There were also concerns they might be taken hostage if the situation turned violent.
The UDD is hoping to attract one million red shirts to the demonstration but security authorities say they may be over-estimating.
Army chief Anupong Paojinda is confident the Internal Security Act, which was endorsed by the government yesterday and transfers the role of maintaining law and order from the police to the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc), will be adequate to deal with the rally without recourse to emergency rule.
Gen Anupong said there was no need at this stage to fall back on the Executive Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations, which gives officers more sweeping powers to deal with protesters.
The internal security law will cover all areas of Bangkok, all districts of Nonthaburi and 21 other districts in Ayutthaya, Chachoengsao, Nakhon Pathom, Pathum Thani, Samut Prakan and Samut Sakhon from tomorrow until March 23.
Isoc, chaired by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, will meet today to find ways to coordinate efforts to handle the rally.
The prime minister said the government would not use force to quell the demonstration. But he ruled out dissolving parliament, saying this option would not put an end to the problem.
Mr Abhisit urged supporters of Thaksin to rethink their ideas now that Khunying Potjaman and her children would not be in the country during the rally. He said red shirt supporters should now realise that while they are fighting hard for the interests of the Shinawatra family, the Shinawatras were living in the lap of luxury. It was irresponsible to leave their supporters in the lurch.
In addition to the ISA, the cabinet has also decided to place 17 other laws under the authority of Isoc instead of the usual agencies. They include laws on disaster prevention, medical emergencies, road traffic, water transport and radio operations.
Puea Thai MP for Samut Prakan Pracha Prasopdee said the government plan to impose the ISA would not discourage pro-Thaksin supporters upcountry who have vowed to go ahead with their demonstration in the capital.
At least 100,000 people will travel to Bangkok from the Northeast, according to UDD co-leader Nisit Sinthuprai, a former MP for Roi Et.
The People's Alliance for Democracy stressed yesterday that its members would not counter the UDD rally. But the PAD would stay alert and wait for orders from its leaders for future moves, it said in a statement.
Deputy chief of the Metropolitan Police Bureau Piya Uthayo said at least 8,000 city police, including 41 crowd control units, would be on standby to support security operations.
Ayutthaya police chief Jaruwat Waisaya said he had received reports that the UDD planned to use at least 120 boats to carry red shirt supporters from Ayutthaya, Pathum Thani, and Nonthaburi provinces along the Chao Phraya River to Bangkok. They would disembark at the Tha Phra Chan pier, Pol Maj Gen Jaruwat said.
He said boat skippers could face legal action if the boats carried too many passengers.