Army readies troops over rally threats

The army is preparing to deploy 58 companies of troops if needed to counter protest threats in coming days.

Heavyweight battle: Suthep Thaugsuban, founder of the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) and Jatuporn Prompan, red shirt leader, vow to keep their supporters apart as the red shirts come to eastern Bangkok for a weekend rally, but army officers are nervous over possible security problems.

Maj Gen Apirat Kongsompong, newly appointed commander of the 1st Division, King's Guard, is directly in charge of the soldiers assigned to ensure peace and order in Bangkok, especially at the rally sites of the protesters.

He said Thursday he is waiting for guidelines about the troop deployment from the Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order (Capo).

Maj Gen Apirat's first task as the 1st Division commander is to step up security as red shirts gather this weekend in a suburban area of Bangkok in a show of support for the government.

The United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) protest site on Utthayan Road in Thawi Watthana district is across town from the anti-government venue at Lumpini Park, sparking fears of a confrontation between the rival groups.

The UDD hopes to mobilise half a million people to its protest which is expected to last over the weekend.

Maj Gen Apirat said Thursday he is not worried about his transfer taking place amid a political crisis.

The officer has come under close scrutiny, especially by the red shirts, because of his role in the military crackdowns on them in 2010.

"I'm not worried that I am a target of the red shirts. I did my job as assigned by my supervisors. I never did anything beyond my orders," he said.

Change of command: Maj Gen Varah Boonyasit, left, embraces Maj Gen Apirat Kongsompong as he hands over command of the 1st Division, King’s Guard, at the 1st Infantry Regiment headquarters on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road on Thursday. Maj Gen Varah has assumed the post of deputy chief of the 1st Army. (Photo by Tawatchai Kemgumnerd)

Maj Gen Apirat said that lese majeste offences would not be tolerated under his watch, adding that a campaign to undermine the monarchy has been under way for a long time.

Meanwhile, Capo director Chalerm Yubamrung Thursday assured the red-shirt rally would be peaceful and guaranteed the homes of prominent figures including former army chief Anupong Paochinda and protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban would not be affected.

He has assigned Pol Gen Worapong Chiwpreecha, deputy police chief, to supervise the situation.

He would work closely with police and troops in security operations.

He said he and a security working team would monitor the protest close to the site.

Mr Chalerm said the UDD leaders confirmed the red shirts would not move from their rally site.

He asked Mr Suthep, the People's Democratic Reform Committee secretary-general, to keep his promise that he would dissolve his rally if the protesters are outnumbered by the red shirts.

UDD chairman Jatuporn Prompan said he was confident the weekend rally would be a turning point.

He said the rally would draw as many as 500,000 people, which should serve as a warning to the Constitutional Court and the National Anti-Corruption Commission which are poised to make key rulings involving caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

"The rally is to prepare a systematic war against the opposing camp. The principle of the rally is to stop efforts to foil democracy," he said.

UDD secretary-general Nattawut Saikuar insisted the red shirts will not go on the march or move elsewhere during the rally.

He said the gathering's purpose is to show how many people disagree with the PDRC's stance. However, he refused to say for sure if the UDD would hold another protest.

"If a coup takes place after Songkran, the red shirts will take to the streets. If the prime minister is replaced, we will hold a protracted rally," he said.

Thanawut Wichaidith, a UDD spokesman, said seven meeting points are being arranged for the red shirts who are expected to arrive from across the country.

The meeting points are in Nakhon Sawan's Muang district, Ayutthaya's Wang Noi, Sombat Buri market in Nonthaburi, Nahon Pathom's Nakhon Chai Si district, Buddhamonthon Sai 5 Road, Mega Bang Na shopping mall and Imperial World shopping mall in Bangkok's Samrong area.

About 1,000 protest guards would be deployed at the red-shirt protest site on Utthayan Road.

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