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Thai Security Forces Plan to Isolate Anti-Government Rally Site

Traffic passes a barricade in Bangkok, Thailand, 13 May 2010

The Thai government says it is preparing to isolate a protest rally site in central Bangkok, later today, with security forces after steps to end the rally peacefully broke down. The military is sending in armored personnel carriers and troops in a renewed bid to end the two months of anti-government protests in a key commercial area of the city.

Army spokesman Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd said the military blockade will begin with the closure of surrounding roads near the rally site at Rajprasong, along with steps to halt access to utilities such as water, electricity and telephone communications.

Transportation systems, such as bus, mass transit and river boats, will be affected. People and protesters are to be allowed to leave the protest area but no one will be allowed to enter. People working in the nearby vicinity were told to return home.

Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanyagorn said despite the planned crackdown, the military is trying to avoid violence. "The government is to gradually control the activities including the access to go into the area. They will be controlled by strengthening measures … The policy is very clear that they need to evaluate all options and to make sure that they will not aggravate or elevate the tension if they can. They need to avoid confrontation."

Efforts on April 10th to disperse thousands of anti-government protesters ended in bloodshed, with more than 20 protesters and officers killed and hundreds of other people injured. The government and protesters say a third group used live weapons to shoot at troops during the melee.

But Panitan added troops would evaluate all options and soldiers are reported to have been authorized to use both rubber bullets and live ammunition.

Red shirt protest leaders reacted defiantly and dismissed the military threat, sayiing they have sufficient supplies. The rally has largely backed former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who lives in exile, in avoidance of a two-year jail term for corruption.

Analysts say rally guards are reported to have weapons. Most protesters at the barricades have been seen with sling shots, stones and bamboo carved spears.

The move to step up security follows a breakdown of reconciliation talks with protest leaders, just as they appeared ready to end the seven-week occupation at the Rajprasong site -- a key commercial and tourism area. Businesses have been shuttered at the cost of billions of dollars in lost revenues.

Protest leaders had called for Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaungsuban to present himself to police and the justice ministry to answer questions about the April 10th clashes. The government has set up an investigation team in the justice ministry.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva had set out a five-point reconciliation plan that included earlier elections and had been welcomed by red shirt leaders. The plan also called for constitutional and economic reforms. But Mr. Abhisit said Thursday the elections that had been set for November are now on hold because the rally failed to disperse.