Thailand's army chief has urged the public not to believe rumours of a possible coup, saying the movement of military hardware into Bangkok was for an annual parade and not to oust Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
"People are scared of something that hasn't taken place yet," General Prayuth Chan-ocha said on Tuesday. "Don't be scared if you can't see it. Everything must happen for a reason," he said, before adding, "without a reason, nothing will happen."
Tension has been building in Bangkok as anti-government protesters calling for Yingluck's popularly elected government to be replaced with an unelected council prepare to change their tactics. They plan to move from the protest camp they set up two months ago at a traffic junction in Bangkok's historic quarter and instead indefinitely block seven intersections in the centre of the city from January 13.
The demonstrators, who are unsatisfied with new elections called for February 2, plan to create traffic gridlock in key areas of the capital to increase pressure on Yingluck to resign and convince civil servants and soldiers to join their cause.
"I want to ask for co-operation from all parties to take care of the nation, especially on January 13," Yingluck said yesterday. "We want it to pass peacefully. We don't want it to lead to clashes."
The protesters have said the military should support their months-long bid to replace the government with an appointed council of "good people" tasked with erasing what they describe as the corrupting political influence of Yingluck's family.
The protesters are led by Suthep Thaugsuban, a former lawmaker with the opposition Democrat Party, which is boycotting the vote. They say the government is illegitimate and run by Thaksin, who faces a two-year jail term for corruption if he returns in a case he says is politically motivated.
Prayuth has refused to publicly take a side. When asked on December 27 whether the door remained open for a coup, he didn't rule it out. "I won't say open or closed," he said. "Everything depends on the situation."
Talk of a putsch increased when generals announced they would be moving troops and hardware, including artillery, into Bangkok this week for army day celebrations on January 18. Prayuth stressed that the army has done this every year.
The movement of military assets into Bangkok was not without meaning, said Paul Chambers, director of research at the Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs at Chiang Mai University.
"Prayuth is an ardent arch-royalist and anti-Thaksin," he said. "I see this troop movement as a warning to police not to try to repress Suthep's forces," he said.