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A news article taken from, Tuesday, 23-Mar-2010

BANGKOK - Just as their protests seemed to be petering out, Thailand's red-shirted protesters vowed to "shut down" Bangkok with another rally on Saturday, defying the government which had raised the stakes with new security measures.

Starting yesterday, army officers guarding key sites including checkpoints, government buildings and military bases were supplied with firearms. Previously, the 30,000 military personnel deployed for the protests were not armed.

Army spokesman Colonel Sunsern Kaewkumnerd said the government was "very concerned" after several minor grenade attacks and wanted to "prevent ill-intentioned people from inciting unrest".

But he said army officers will be allowed to use their weapons "only in crucial situations in order to protect the lives of officials or the public".

On Saturday, two small grenade blasts hit Bangkok and a nearby province shortly after tens of thousands of anti-government protesters held a parade through the capital. One person was slightly injured.

A week ago, four grenades exploded at a Bangkok military base, wounding two soldiers.

Col Sunsern warned demonstrators that the army was also ready to take "decisive action" if they try to disrupt a Cabinet meeting scheduled for today at a ministry on the outskirts of Bangkok.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said the government would extend a stringent security law for an additional week in Bangkok and two other provinces, Nonthaburi and Samut Prakan.

The Internal Security Act, which allows authorities to set up checkpoints, impose curfews and limit movement, had been enforced across eight provinces since March 11 and was due to expire today.

Protest leaders are seeking to regain their momentum, as the number of supporters gathered in the capital waned over the week.

Mr Jatuporn Prompan said their rally this weekend would be bigger than the noisy procession last Saturday, which drew around 65,000 people.

"On Saturday, we will shut down Bangkok and rally at provincial halls across the country," he said.

Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij sought to downplay the impact of the protests, saying they had not deterred foreign investors in the country.

"The main issue ... is that we manage it in a civilised manner within the rules of law and under democratic principles," he told an investment conference in Hong Kong. AFP

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