BANGKOK – The Thai government said Tuesday it will extend its use of a strict security law to cover an anti-government protest in Bangkok this weekend and a regional summit of Asian leaders later this month.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva announced that the Cabinet approved the use of the Internal Security Act — which allows security forces to restrict freedom of movement in situations deemed harmful to national security — in Bangkok and the coastal town of Cha-am, where leaders from 16 nations will meet for the East Asia Summit on Oct. 23-25.
Thailand has been locked in a cycle of protest and counter-protest by supporters and opponents of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup on accusations of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect to the country's monarch. One round of protests led to a weeklong shutdown of the capital's airports.
In April, pro-Thaksin demonstrators stormed the East Asia Summit in the seaside city of Pattaya, shutting down the meeting and forcing the evacuation of several leaders by helicopter and boat.
To prevent a similar embarrassment at this month's summit, the Cabinet earlier this month approved the use of the Internal Security Act from Oct. 12 to Oct. 27 specifically for Cha-am.
On Tuesday, the Cabinet met with security advisers and revised its earlier parameters for the security law to cover a pro-Thaksin rally Saturday in Bangkok, where protesters are expected to call once again for Abhisit to step down.
The security act will take now effect Thursday in the Bangkok district where the protest is planned and remain in place until Oct. 25.
"We have to make sure the protest does not have any effect on national security or undermine confidence ahead of the (Asian leaders') summit that Thailand is hosting," Abhisit told reporters.
The move indicates that the government is concerned about possible protests in Bangkok while the summit is taking place in Cha-am, about 90 miles south of the capital. Large protests are not expected in Cha-am due to tight security and out of respect for King Bhumibol Adulyadej, whose tightly guarded seaside palace is in the neighboring town of Hua Hin.
Thailand's image has taken several beatings during its rotating, annual chairmanship of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which ends in December and has coincided with the country's worst political tumult in years.
The East Asia Summit groups the ASEAN members and Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.