About 5,000 Thai police took up positions around Government House in Bangkok on Saturday ahead of a rally by anti-government protesters trying to force Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva from power.
Metropolitan police chief Lieutenant-General Suchart Muenkaew said the protesters would not be allowed to storm the compound, as happened with an opposing protest group in August, but police would not use force.
"We will negotiate with them and won't use weapons," he told reporters, adding that army officers would be on hand to monitor the rally of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), which said it expected to attract 20,000 supporters.
By late afternoon, about 10,000 red-shirted UDD, most of whom supported ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, had gathered at Sanun Luang, a large public square in front of the glittering spires of Bangkok's Grand Palace.
Protest leaders said they planned a march to Government House in the evening to demand the resignation of the Democrat Party-led government that came to power last month after the courts dissolved its pro-Thaksin predecessor.
"We will not intrude into the Government House compound. After we declare our standpoints, we will disband and leave. We will not stay there overnight," Chatuporn Prompan, a UDD leader, said.
Among the UDD demands are the removal of Foreign Minister Kasit Piromyas, a vocal supporter of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), and the speeding up of prosecution of PAD leaders for their occupation of Government House and Bangkok's two airports last year.
The rally interrupts weeks of relative calm in Thailand's long-running political crisis, which dates back to well before the 2006 coup against Thaksin.
Analysts say the outlook for political stability remains bleak as long as the rift between Bangkok's royalist and business elite, who accuse Thaksin of corruption, and rural voters who loved his populist policies, remains unresolved.
ReutersLast Mod: 31 Ocak 2009, 18:04