Thailand beefs up security powers for anti-government protests

BANGKOK, Thailand - The Thai government on Wednesday invoked a special security law to control planned anti-government protests in central Bangkok, after a series of violent rallies rocked the capital in recent years.

The Thai People's Army -- a newly-formed coalition of ultra-royalist groups who despise the Puea Thai ruling party and its exiled figurehead Thaksin Shinawatra -- has vowed to protest in Bangkok on Sunday, possibly for several days.

It is targeting a government-backed bill, due to be introduced in parliament on August 7 and proposing an amnesty for those involved in several bouts of political violence that have convulsed the nation since a 2006 coup toppled Thaksin.

The amnesty bill would scrap charges against protesters involved in incidents from the September 2006 coup until May 2012 -- barring the leaders.

Opponents fear it will be manipulated by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's government to grant her brother Thaksin an amnesty, paving the way for his return by waiving his two-year jail sentence on corruption charges.

To head off possible unrest, the cabinet has invoked the Internal Security Act for ten days in three inner districts of the capital, a senior government official said.

"We estimate that there will be a large number of protesters from the camps both 'for' and 'against' the bill... so to prevent them from confrontation we have to invoke the special security law ," Paradorn Pattanatabut, secretary-general of the National Security Council, told AFP.

The security law enables the government to prevent the use of certain routes or vehicles, impose a curfew, ban gatherings, carry out searches of buildings and censor the media.

Paradorn said protesters have yet announce where the rallies will be held but the measure will secure parliament in the city's historic centre.

An attempt to introduce an amnesty bill into parliament was aborted last year after "Yellow Shirts" who support the opposition Democrat Party rallied outside the legislature, evoking memories of their staunch street opposition to Thaksin in 2006.

Two months of mass opposition protests in 2010 by "Red Shirt" supporters of Thaksin sparked a military crackdown that left about 90 people dead and nearly 1,900 wounded.

The unrest occurred under a previous establishment-backed Democrat government that was swept from power in 2011 polls by the allies of Thaksin.

Thaksin, who made billions as a telecoms tycoon, is adored by many poor Thais for his populist policies while in power. But he is reviled by many in elite, military and palace circles who see him as authoritarian and a threat to the monarchy.