BANGKOK, Sept 18 (Reuters) – Thai protesters defied huge crowds and tightened security on Tuesday to stage a modestly scaled-down rally which promises to launch a fierce street battle with government forces, who are still nervously holding back.

Thailand’s unpopular Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha called a meeting with some 1,000 armed police and soldiers near the protesters’ encampment in Bangkok, but there was no immediate reaction from the army.

The initial rally of about 3,000 was much smaller than expected, with just 100 protesters in the red-shirt leadership’s official number of 17. Security officials were slow to arrive as rain clouds gathered in the region.

About two dozen orange-shirted protesters remained at the protest site late on Tuesday, although they were all quickly taken inside and the main group of red-shirt supporters was not seen.

More than 10,000 protesters – most of them dressed in red shirts, a symbol of the Thai regime’s desire to clamp down on the movement – have so far occupied a variety of places since the small group, seeking democracy, began demonstrating on April 30.

The latest and smallest rally of the protesters will start at 4 p.m. (1900 GMT), over the city’s main square, the city’s main cathedral and past the parliament building to the city centre.

(Reporting by Thanar Sovichinda; Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Paul Tait)