(9 October) Anti-government protesters who are rallying around Government House appear unmoved by the enactment of security laws that would give the authorities a sweeping power to restrict and monitor the protests.
Banding under the name People′s Force of Democracy to Overthrow Thaksinism (PEFOT), the protesters are rallying against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, whom they perceive to be a puppet of her brother, former PM Thaksin Shinawatra.
PEFOT supporters allege that Mr. Thaksin is a corrupt and anti-monarchy tyrant who attempts to sabotage the country from his exiles in Dubai and Hong Kong.
Although the protests remain relatively small – the average number appears to be 300 people – this morning the government deemed it necessary to enact Internal Security Act of 2007 in three districts and 8 subdistrict of Bangkok to give them a robust power in tackling the protests.
The ISA grants the authorities the power to block traffic, close off areas, search the protesters, and send in police force to dislodge the protesters should they decide to do so.
The areas affected under the ISA are mostly governmental offices. Financial and commercial districts of Bangkok are not included in the enactment. The ISA is due to expire on 18 October, officials said.
Lt.Gen. Paradorn Pattanabut, director of the National Security Council (NSC), said the invocation of the security law is "necessary" as the normal policing power is not adequate to control the situation. "We need a special law that will integrate other related agencies," Lt.Gen. Paradorn said.
He expressed his worry that "other groups" might join the protests and escalate the situation, especially during the upcoming visit of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who is due to arrive in Bangkok on 11 October and scheduled to visit Government House.
The head of NSC claimed the protesters pose a great risk to the public order, citing intelligence reports that PEFOT is intent on expanding their rallies and instigating chaos in the governmental district of Bangkok, possibly occupying some important buildings.
He also warned that unknown elements might take advantage of the protests and escalate the situation into violence.
Throughout the day, the protesters show no sign of backing down. Leaders of PEFOT said during a negotiation with the police that they would not disperse during Mr. Li′s visit. Various figures give speeches attacking the government on the stage, with intermittent music performance.
The protesters appear to be in high spirit. They have erected makeshift canteens distributing food, while Bangkok authorities provided them with toilet buses and water tanks. Some protesters could be seen dancing to the music around the stage.
Gen. Preecha Eiamsupan, a leader of PEFOT, said in a press conference today that his group is unarmed and exercising the right of assembly in peaceful manner.
As for several protesters who were arrested for carrying scissors and knives into the protest site, Gen. Preecha explained that such equipments are not weapons and needed for camp site maintenance.
Government officials have portrayed the PEFOT rally as a proxy battle on behalf of the Democrat Party, accusing the opposition of sending reinforcements to and coordinating with the protesters in order to sow havoc against the government.
The Democrat Party denies the allegations. Mr. Taworn Senniam, deputy chairman of Democrat Party, said he is not aware of any reinforcement from southern Thailand (the voting base of Democrats) arriving in Bangkok. "We do not manage the rally," he said.
Mr. Taworn added that PEFOT is composed of people from different regions of Thailand, and suggested that the prominent numbers of southerners in the protesters are due to their grievance about rubber price, the major economic plants of southern Thailand.
He also dismissed the government′s claims that PEFOT is plotting to occupy Government House, the airports, and the state TV station, calling them "day-dreaming".
As for the enactment of ISA, Mr. Taworn suggested that the protesters could take the case to the court and insist on their constitutional rights of peaceful assembly.
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