PM readies for rally showdown

PM readies for rally showdown

Military and security prepare for protests

Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan on Wednesday sits down in front of his ministry to meet 500 students who called for a new constitution, House dissolution and an end to government harassment. (Photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)
Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan on Wednesday sits down in front of his ministry to meet 500 students who called for a new constitution, House dissolution and an end to government harassment. (Photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Wednesday instructed military and security agencies to prepare for student demonstrations which are expected to escalate next month when the incumbent military leaders retire.

Gen Prayut on Wednesday chaired a special meeting of security agencies at the National Security Council (NSC) to assess potential threats to national security.

Among those present were Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda, NSC secretary-general Somsak Roongsita and Defence Forces chief Gen Pornpipat Benyasri.

All eyes were on the meeting as Gen Prayut invited senior military officers -- who are tipped to become the new leaders of the armed forces, replacing the incumbents who will retire at the end of next month -- to the meeting.

They include army chief of staff Gen Chalermpol Srisawasdi, expected to become the new Defence Forces chief; assistant army chief Gen Narongphan Jitkaewtae, tipped to replace Gen Apirat Kongsompong as army chief; assistant navy chief Chartchai Sriworakhan, tipped to be named the navy chief succeeding Adm Luechai Ruddit and deputy police chief Pol Gen Suwat Chaengyodsuk, expected to succeed Pol Gen Chakthip Chaijinda as the national police chief.

Gen Somsak said Gen Prayut called the meeting to discuss the ongoing political situation.

Next month, two groups of student protesters and activists -- the Free People group and a group of Thammasat University students -- plan to escalate anti-government demonstrations.

The Thammasat group said it will organise a massive rally at the university's Tha Prachan campus on Sept 19 while the Free People group has yet to announce a date but says it plans to camp out overnight, differing from its usual flash-mob form of protest.

Free People has made demands for House dissolution, constitutional amendments and the end of government threats against its critics, while the Thammasat group demands reforms to the monarchy.

A source said Gen Prayut is concerned that someone may exploit the situation to instigate unrest by using young protesters as a tool to use against authorities so that when the situation gets out of hand, the military might step in to maintain order.

"Gen Prayut also wants to test the waters to see if the new military leaders, particularly Gen Narongphan, will still support his government, and gauge their stance if the demonstrations escalate,'' the source said.

Gen Narongphan, the source said, does not have close ties with Gen Prayut. Previously, the prime minister had tried to push his close associate – deputy army chief Gen Natthapol Nakpanich -- to become army chief, but to no avail.

Gen Prayut said on Wednesday he did not oppose the protests but many demands of the protesters were not possible to implement.

He called on protesters to respect the royal institution.

Asked about foreign organisations' criticisms about his administration's handling of the protest, the prime minister said he had never interfered in other countries' affairs and said the government would use appropriate methods to prevent the protests from turning violent.

If the protests get out of control and the government is forced to invoke national security laws, the country might risk reverting back to the "old situation", he said.

Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai said foreign organisations should keep silent on Thailand's internal affairs, after some warned the government against using force against student protesters.

The minister said the government had never used force against anyone.

Mr Don voiced his opinion that comments made by foreign organisations were based on the past.

He added it would be best for them not to say anything about the country's political problems as Thailand has its own way of handling situations.

A sub-committee of the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration has proposed the state of emergency be extended until the end of September to allow continued compulsory quarantining of people returning from abroad.

Human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa was arrested on Wednesday at the Criminal Court on Ratchadaphisek Road.

The arrest was made following his participation in a peaceful gathering on Aug 3 at Democracy Monument. He was arrested on charges of sedition under Section 116 of the Criminal Code.

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