Thailand's military vowed on Sunday to "punish" anti-government protesters if they march on Bangkok's central business district after PM handed the security over to the army.
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has said that Army Chief General Anupong Paochinda would replace Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban as head of the Centre for the Resolution of Emergency Situations (CRES).
Some observers, however, believe the change of guard at the security centre could widen rifts between the government and the army, The Bangkok Post reports.
An army source said that the Thai Government's move is intended to "force" General Paochinda to take tough action against the Red Shirts.
The decision follows the failed attempt to arrest the "Red Shirt" leaders at a city hotel on Friday.
Red-shirted supporters of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra said on Saturday they may take thier protest to the financial district, two blocks away from their main downtown protest base, on Tuesday, in defiance of an emergency decree.
"We won't let them go anywhere further," army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said.
Sansern stopped short of using the word "crackdown" but said protesters occupying the plush shopping and hotel district for a 16th day would be dealt with.
"Let's say that we are left with no choice but to enforce the law," Sansern told TNN television. "Those who do wrong will get their punishment. Taking back the area along with other measures are all included in enforcing the law. All this must be done."
He said uniformed and armed security forces would be sent to secure high-rises around the demonstration area to prevent the "third hand".
"Whatever will be will be. If we have to clash, we will... We need to enforce the law decisively. We can't just think that 'we don't want casualties,' otherwise the country can't move forward. Casualties would only happen after security forces have tried their best to avoid them, while those people are trying to take away our weapons and lives."
An calm has prevailed in the capital over a Thai new year holiday period in the wake of Thailand's worst violence in almost two decades, which triggered a huge selloff in the stock market after six weeks of gains.
A heated confrontation between troops and demonstrators, who are demanding that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva dissolve parliament and step down, led to bloody clashes on April 10, the first outbreak of violence in the six-week protests.
Leaders of the anti-Thaksin "yellow shirt" movement -- representing royalists, the business elite, aristocrats and urban middle class -- met on Sunday to discuss their position on the crisis.
The yellow shirts staged a crippling eight-day blockade of Bangkok's airports in December 2008, which stranded more than 230,000 tourists, disrupted trade flows and led to credit ratings downgrades for Southeast Asia's second-largest economy.
The siege ended when a pro-Thaksin ruling party was dissolved for electoral fraud, paving the way for Abhisit's rise to power after a parliamentary vote the red shirts say was influenced heavily by the military in a "silent coup".
Abhisit rebuffs claims his government is illegitimate and has refused to step down. He failed to deliver his regular televised address on Sunday for a second week and has been uncharacteristically reclusive since last week's clashes.
"Planned Red protest"
Several thousand protesters rallied on Sunday at the Rachaprasong intersection, dubbed their "final battleground", listening to speeches and huddling in the shade as the burning sun took its toll. More were arriving for a rally that typically draws tens of thousands by evening.
One red shirt leader said the planned protest on Tuesday may target Bangkok Bank, Thailand's biggest lender, which red shirts have linked to the elite they say conspired to bring down elected governments backed or led by Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and fled into exile ahead of a graft conviction.
Protesters have taken aim at Prem Tinsulanonda, a former army chief, premier and honorary adviser to the bank, who serves as the top aide to Thailand's revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
AgenciesLast Mod: 18 Nisan 2010, 17:10