Thousands of red-shirted protesters have rallied in Bangkok amid tight security to mark the third anniversary of a military coup against the former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The September 19, 2006 putsch plunged the kingdom into three years of political turmoil which shows little sign of ending, with supporters of the exiled Thaksin leading the latest round of protest and counter-protest.
The government has imposed a draconian internal security law in the centre of the capital for the latest demonstrations and deployed more than 9,000 soldiers and police to guard key locations. The "Red Shirt" movement says it wants the current prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to resign and hold elections, raising concerns of a repeat of massive anti-government riots in April that left two people dead.
Police estimated about 5,000 protesters had arrived at the protest site in the city's Royal Plaza by the official start of the demonstration at 1pm (6am GMT) and that many more were coming from around the country. Red Shirt organisers set up shops selling food and the movement's signature foot-shaped plastic clappers near a stage where protesters were set to gather in the evening for a video or telephone address by Thaksin.
The deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban said that unidentified groups of troublemakers could set off bombs in Bangkok and create unrest during the protest. "What worries us is a third party trying to incite the unrest. Many groups have been ordered to act but I do not mean Red Shirts," he told reporters. Tensions rose further when about 5,000 rival, anti-Thaksin "Yellow Shirt" protesters headed towards an ancient temple on the disputed northeastern border with Cambodia, officials said.
Soldiers, police and local villagers set up checkpoints to stop protesters travelling in buses and cars towards the 11th century Preah Vihear temple amid fears that their actions could spark conflict with Cambodia. The movement wants the government to push out Cambodian forces and was trying to negotiate with authorities to allow them into the area, where there have been several deadly military clashes in the past year.
The staunchly royalist Yellow Shirts helped bring down the previous pro-Thaksin government in December when they blockaded Bangkok's airports, but have now started to turn their fire on the current administration. Thailand remains deeply divided between supporters of the twice-elected Thaksin, who are concentrated in rural areas, and his foes in the Bangkok-based power cliques of the palace, military and bureaucracy.
The powerful army chief Anupong Paojinda on Friday denied rumours that the military was about to stage a coup against Mr Abhisit, who has been weakened by a recent battle with coalition partners over the new national police chief. *AFP