Sukumpol: No soldiers at rally

No soldiers will be needed at Sunday's anti-government rally as police are capable of keeping the situation under control, Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat said on Saturday.

He said the armed forces would not be present at the rally planned by the Pitak Siam group at the Royal Turf Club in Bangkok.

The rally is being organised by Gen Boonlert Kaewprasit, a classmate of Gen Surayud Chulanont, a privy councillor who also served as prime minister after the coup that overthrew Thaksin Shinawatra.

Gen Boonlert says his group ultimately hopes to force the Pheu Thai government from office because its actions are hurting the country.

ACM Sukumpol, meanwhile, called on the media refrain from widely reporting on the rally so that there would be no problems and people would disperse peacefully.

Pol Maj Gen Wicharnwat Borirakkul, commander of Metropolitan Police Division 1, said that 450 policemen would be deployed inside and around the Nang Loeng race track at the Royal Turf Club to maintain peace and order.

Another 150 traffic police will be on duty on roads near the race track to help ease congestion in the area, he added.

Pol Maj Gen Wicharnwat said security checkpoints would be set up around the rally site to prevent any "third hand" elements from inciting violence.

The Pitak Siam movement has attracted a number of supporters. Among them is the conservative religious group Kong Thap Tham (Dhamma Army), which has close ties with Gen Chamlong Srimuang, a prominent figure in the protests leading to the 2006 coup.

Gen Boonlert said an assessment would be made of the success of Sunday's rally, and that would influence any decision to hold a repeat event.

He played down the likelihood of violence, even though a red-shirt demonstration is planned near the rally site.

Guest speakers on the stage on Sunday will include Surapong Chainam, a former Thai ambassador; Gen Pathompong Kesornsuk, former chief adviser to the Supreme Command; Seri Wongmontha, a prominent political critic; and Sqn Ldr Prasong Soonsiri, former secretary-general of the National Security Council.

In a related development, 44.4% of those surveyed by the Suan Dusit Poll said Pitak Siam lacked sufficient reason to hold an anti-government rally at this time.

The pollsters from Suan Dusit Rajabhat University interviewed 1,318 people from Oct 23-26 to seek their opinions on the event planned for the Royal Turf Club in Bangkok.

They said many respondents viewed the rally as a political game to pressure the government and said the group should submit a petition or seek to hold talks with the government instead.

Another 22.4% said the rally was justified and 33.2% expressed no opinion, saying they would wait to see what happened on Sunday.

Asked about the rally, 31.2% of the respondents said the group had the democratic right to voice its opinions, and 27.4% were concerned about ill-intentioned people exploiting the event to incite unrest.

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