Prayuth offers to protect UDD rallies

Army chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has proposed protection measures for the red-shirts if they hold a rally in Bangkok or in areas under the Internal Security Act.

Red-shirt members held a rally in Pattaya last Saturday and they have promised a bigger turnout for a major gathering on April 5. (Photo by Thiti Wannamontha)

The army commander-in-chief forwarded the plan to the Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order (Capo) on Wednesday.

Checkpoints could be set up for the safety of United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) members in these areas, he said. Soldiers would give equal protection to the red-shirts and their rivals, the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC).

The two groups plan major rallies a week apart, starting with the PDRC's planned march to push for reform ahead of elections this Saturday, and then the UDD gathering on April 5.

Suthep Thaugsuban will lead the pro-reform PDRC demonstrators, who plan to converge at the Royal Plaza on Saturday, but the UDD has not unveiled its strategy.

Worachai Hema, a Pheu Thai Party and UDD member, indicated that the red-shirts will probably avoid rallies in the capital city.

The red shirt rallies to counter the PDRC could be held in 20 locations near Bangkok, including Saraburi and Nakhon Ratchasima, he said.

The UDD protesters will air their opposition to any attempt to stage a military coup and moves by independent organisations to force the caretaker government to step down, he said.

Gen Prayuth reiterated previously expressed concerns about possible violence between the two arch rivals, pointing out their demonstrations were heating up the political atmosphere.

He said the army did not oppose protest rallies, as long as they were peacefully organised. He asked the  leaders of the two groups to be strict in controlling the crowds and in keeping tempers down, to avoid confrontations.

Red-shirt leaders have accused the armed forces of taking sides with the anti-government group, although military leaders repeatedly insist they are impartial.

Gen Prayuth was clearly miffed after new UDD secretary-general Nattawut Saikuar said he was on the PDRC's list of likely candidates for interim prime minister in the event caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is forced to stand down.

The army chief on Tuesday strongly denied he had any ambition to be prime minister.

On Wednesday Gen Prayuth reiterated his call for Ms Yingluck and Mr Suthep to both take a step back to help end the political crisis, which has dragged on for almost five months.

''I don't have the answers about who will make sacrifices and who will step back a bit. But if they still think they will be in a disadvantaged position, or that they will lose, peace will never be restored,'' he said.

Related search: pdrc protest, election, politics, thailand, army, soldiers, prayuth chan-ocha, red shirts, rallies, united front for democracy against dictatorship, people's democratic reform committee, nattawut saikuar, suthep thaugsuban, yingluck shinawara

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Writer: Wassana Nanuam and Aekkarach Sattaburuth