Thais step up surveillance of Red Shirts, Montenegro says no warrant yet for ex-PM

BANGKOK (AP) — Thai military and police increased their surveillance Friday of people in the country's north suspected to be allied with protesters who paralyzed Bangkok with demonstrations that led to violence, fearing further outbreaks in the provinces.

Efforts to bring fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra back to Thailand on charges of terrorism for fomenting the violence hit a snag, as Montenegro said he won't be extradited or tried without proof or an international arrest warrant.

Thaksin, ousted in a 2006 military coup, fled Thailand in 2008 ahead of a corruption conviction but still has wide support in the country.

Intelligence officials have information suggesting protesters have moved underground and could be planning violent retaliation in their strongholds, which are in the north and northeast of the country, said assistant army spokeswoman Lt. Siriya Khuengsirikul.

Siriya said the army is confident it can stop any outbreaks of renewed violence, and that the increased military watch was a precautionary measure.

The Red Shirt protesters, mostly members of the urban and rural poor who support Thaksin, held two months of protests in the heart of Bangkok that turned into riots and left at least 88 dead and more than 1,000 injured.

Their demonstration was dispersed last week in a bloody military crackdown in which soldiers fired on them, used armored vehicles to knock down their bamboo-and-tire barricades and forced them to retreat from Bangkok's main commercial center.

Dozens of buildings were torched as the protesters retreated, including the stock exchange and a major shopping mall.

Most of the Red Shirt leaders were detained or submitted to questioning, but the movement itself was not disbanded and was expected to regroup in its provincial strongholds.

On Wednesday, acting police chief Prateep Tanprasert moved four provincial police heads in the northeast to inactive posts in Bangkok. Their relocation came after the generals failed to prevent angry Red Shirt supporters from burning local government offices.

Even so, a crisis panel recommended the situation had calmed down enough in the capital for a nighttime curfew to be lifted. It will remain through Friday night and be lifted after that. It will then be regularly reviewed in case it needs to be imposed again.

"We need to give the curfew lift a try, because it's the innocent people and businesses who're affected the most," said Siriya. "But that doesn't rule out the possibility of reintroducing the curfew."

Street stalls filled an area near where the protest was centered, as the city on Friday hosted a festival aimed at easing residents' frayed nerves. More festivities were to be held around the city for a Buddhist holiday.

"It's showing support for our country. Life moves on," said Arun Porntiwut, a 29-year-old office worker.

The unrest in Thailand has opened a growing divide between Thaksin's supporters and those who back the conservative establishment, including many in the middle class who agreed with the 2006 military coup that ousted Thaksin.

Thailand has issued an arrest warrant for Thaksin after testimony by the Department of Special Investigations about his alleged involvement in the protests. It alleged Thaksin committed, threatened to commit or supported terrorist acts, but details were not disclosed.

Thailand's government urged him on Thursday to come out of self-imposed exile and face the terrorism charges, which carry a possible death penalty.

Thaksin has acquired a Montenegrin passport and reportedly is staying occasionally in a seaside villa in the tiny Adriatic Sea country. Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic told The Associated Press that Montenegro gave Thaksin citizenship partly because of his planned multimillion investments in tourism there.

Djukanovic said that so far Interpol has not issued an international arrest warrant for Thaksin.

"It's best for Thaksin to return and fight it out in the court, which will deal with the case fairly," government spokesman Panithan Wattanayagorn said.

Thaksin has denied any involvement in the violence.

He told Australian Broadcasting Corp. by telephone from an undisclosed location late Wednesday that he had never supported violence. He called the terrorism charges groundless and said he did not believe Interpol, the Paris-based international police intelligence-sharing association, would act on the warrant.


AP writers Kinan Suchaovanich in Bangkok and Dusan Stojanovic in Podgorica, Montenegro contributed to this report.