BANGKOK, Thailand -- Four days after U.S. President Barack Obama praised Thailand's democracy, the government clamped parts of Bangkok under an Internal Security Act on Thursday (November 22), because "violence may be used" by protesters during their upcoming rally to demand an immediate coup.
"If a large number of people are mobilized by incitement, led by those who seek to overthrow an elected government and democratic rule -- [action] which is against the Constitution -- and there is evidence that violence may be used to achieve those ends, then this is a case of national security," Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra told the nation in a televised broadcast.
The Internal Security Act (ISA) "will be effective from November 22 to 30, 2012," Mrs. Yingluck said on Thursday evening.
A new "Law and Order Administrative Center, under the command of the Commissioner-General of the Royal Thai Police," will coordinate control, she said.
Thousands of anti-riot police and other security forces were rushing to Bangkok to control the anti-government demonstration.
The ISA says it "contains provisions which impose restrictions on the rights and liberties of the people," and is controlled by the prime minister.
Under the ISA, the government and security forces can block transportation, impose a curfew, disband public groups, extend existing media censorship, and search premises.
The ISA also says it is "to build love and unity among people in the nation" and allows authorities to control all "electronic equipment."
The three areas of Bangkok under the ISA include Parliament, the prime minister's Government House office, and the Royal Plaza Hotel where the protest is to be held.
One of Bangkok's main tourist-packed areas, Khao San Road, is a short walk from the rally site.
The protest will be allowed, but must remain peaceful, authorities said.
The protest's leader, retired Gen. Boonlert Kaewprasit, roused thousands of supporters on October 28 after declaring: "I would love to see a coup, because I know this puppet government is here to rob the country."
Mr. Boonlert is a new, mysterious figure and is supported by an unknown number of other retired generals, said a senior military officer in an interview.
They command an influential, emotional, indebted form of allegiance among their subordinates who were promoted when the generals were in service, he said.
The senior military officer, who asked to remain anonymous so he could speak freely, said he opposed Mr. Boonlert.
Last month, Mr. Boonlert announced the creation of a movement named Pitak Siam, or Protecting Siam, to oust the government and protect the monarchy.
Siam is Thailand's pre-1939 name, used when this Buddhist-majority country was ruled by an absolute monarchy instead of the current, widely revered constitutional monarchy.
Pitak Siam's peaceful protest on October 28, in Bangkok's prestigious Royal Turf Club stadium, attracted more than 10,000 people.
That protest's speakers included the National Security Council's former secretary-general Prasong Soonsiri, and the Armed Forces Supreme Command's former chief adviser Gen. Pathompong Kesornsuk.
Mrs. Yingluck appears to have strengthened her position partly by recently allowing the military to enjoy greater autonomy to arrange their promotions, lucrative procurement contracts, and other affairs without strict civilian oversight, another senior military officer -- who also opposed Mr. Boonlert -- said in an interview.
In turn, the military appeared to allow Mrs. Yingluck to rule without being threatened by a coup, even though the two sides remain distrustful of each other, said the military officer who also asked to remain anonymous.
The military staged a bloodless coup in 2006 and toppled Mrs. Yingluck's brother, then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, displeasing Washington.
Today, Prime Minister Yingluck is basking in the support expressed by President Obama who met her on Sunday (November 18) in Bangkok during his trip to Southeast Asia which also included Myanmar and Cambodia.
Mr. Obama told a news conference: "What you are seeing here in Thailand is a democratically-elected prime minister, who is committed to democracy, committed to rule of law, committed to freedom of speech and the press and assembly."
Three days earlier, Thailand's U.S.-trained military hosted U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Mr. Panetta and Defense Minister Air Chief Marshal Sukumpol Suwanatat signed a "2012 Joint Vision Statement for the Thai-U.S. Defense Alliance" on November 15, updating a 1962 U.S.-Thailand agreement.
The new statement supports weapons sales and U.S. financing for Thailand's military, and Bangkok's 2004 designation as "a major non-NATO ally of the United States".
Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco, California, reporting news from Asia since 1978, and recipient of Columbia University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He is a co-author of three non-fiction books about Thailand, including "Hello My Big Big Honey!" Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews; 60 Stories of Royal Lineage; and Chronicle of Thailand: Headline News Since 1946. Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the final chapter, Ceremonies and Regalia, in a new book titled King Bhumibol Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in Perspective.
His websites are:
Hello My Big Honey
(Copyright 2012 Richard S Ehrlich)