The Thai Government has stepped up security measures in an effort to ensure anti-government protests planned for later this week will be peaceful. The government sees the protests as a test for the country's fragile democracy.
The Thai Cabinet has invoked special security legislation to boost the government's powers in crowd control that allows military personnel to assist police to contain anti-government protests planned for later this week in the Thai capital.
The government says more than 30,000 police and military personnel, and 40,000 community civilian defense members are on call to meet the heightened security measures.
The anti-government United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship says it aims to paralyze Bangkok with more than 500,000 protesters calling for the government to resign and call fresh elections.
The group known for wearing Red Shirts, is closely aligned with exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who fled corruption charges in 2008. Thaksin's five-year government was ousted by a military coup in 2006.
Thaksin was found guilty of abuse of power and concealing his wealth by Thailand's Supreme Court. The court ordered the seizure of $1.4 billion of his Thai assets. Thaksin claims he is innocent and the charges are politically motivated.
Thaksin supporters believe the opposition Peua Thai Party would win new elections and that would open the way for him to return to power.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told security officials the government has sufficient forces to handle the protests, adding he would not be calling a general election under pressure from the protesters.
Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn says the administration is confident of weathering the protests. "But we can have a change of government through the peaceful means, through the democratic system to a parliamentary system. But we need to work out a few key issues before we can get into a new election," he said.
Panitan spoke at a briefing of mostly foreign reporters with representatives from the military, police, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Bangkok city officials. Panitan says the protests will prove to be a major test for Thailand's fledgling democracy.
"With systematic step-by-step measures we put in place to our best capabilities, I think we can show the Thai people, Thai society, and international community that we have transformed our society into a new society where demonstrations, differences of opinion, emotional or not, can be handled can be managed successfully," he said.
He says security personnel will be largely unarmed, using minimum force to maintain order.
The protests are expected to be the largest since April 2009 when thousands of pro-Thaksin supporters blocked roads in Bangkok and later forced a major Asian summit of regional leaders to be canceled after breaking into a key conference hall. The government imposed state emergency legislation and regained order after three days.