Bangkok: Thai authorities on Thursday began deploying 50,000 troops on the streets of Bangkok ahead of rallies by anti-government protesters that they fear could turn violent, the deputy prime minister said.
The demonstrations by the so-called "Red Shirts", who support fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, begin on Friday -- two weeks after the kingdom`s top court confiscated USD 1.4 billion of the tycoon`s assets.
Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who is overseeing the security operation, said "full deployment" began on Thursday of 30,000 soldiers, 10,000 police and 10,000 civilian volunteer forces.
"If protesters intrude into Army bases or police stations, the government will use armed force to crack down immediately, as we consider them terrorists," he told reporters.
The government has invoked a tough internal security act that allows it to call out troops, impose curfews and ban gatherings.
Checkpoints are being set up in and around Bangkok to search protesters for weapons as they arrive from the provinces, mainly their strongholds in the rural north.
The Reds, who resent what they see as an elitist and undemocratic government, say they expect up to 600,000 people to attend the main rally on Sunday but insist it will be peaceful.
The government estimates that nearer 100,000 will turn up.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva warned on Wednesday there could be "sabotage", while Thailand`s main airport, which was besieged by protesters in 2008, said on Wednesday it had made contingency plans for the rallies.