Thai Military Chief Takes Over Security

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Thailand's prime minister talked tough and handed more law and order powers to the army Friday after security forces were humiliated when an anti-government protest leader escaped a police raid by clambering down a rope from a hotel balcony in broad daylight as supporters cheered.
The escape by Arisman Pongruangrong - and the temporary taking as hostages of two senior police officers to secure his getaway - was the latest demonstration of the government's inability to rein in the so-called Red Shirt protesters, who have been blocking Bangkok's streets for more than a month demanding a change in government.

The Red Shirts are supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in bloodless coup in 2006, and pro-democracy activists who opposed the military takeover. They accuse Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of heading an illegitimate government because it came to power in December 2008 without winning an election, replacing a pro-Thaksin administration.

Abhisit, speaking Friday night in a special television broadcast, placed army commander Gen. Anupong Paochinda in charge of the peacekeeping force meant to stop violence by the increasingly aggressive Red Shirts, formally known as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, or UDD.

A major attempt to clear one of the two main protest sites last Saturday ended in fierce clashes that left 24 people dead and more than 800 injured, and failed to dislodge the protesters. The protesters have since consolidated their forces at the second site in an upscale shopping and hotel district.


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